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The Official Scribe: It’s All About Learning Styles & Collaboration

Here is another post in the series of showing Alan November’s Digital Learning Farm: Students as Contributors in Action.

Previously I have posted about

Today I wanted to share our experimentation with different types of note taking as part of creating “Official Scribes” for the classroom while taking into account the students’ different learning styles.

Students were starting a unit about the American Revolution by watching an introductory video clip. We discussed different ways to take notes and came up with:

  • individual note taking by paper and pencil
  • individual note taking on a word processor
  • collaborative backchanneling
  • visual note taking (on SmartBoard and paper)

As the video was playing, one student was in charge of pausing it when a visual was displayed that he felt was an important visual to describe what was happening.

Once paused we used the SmartBoard notebook tool of taking a screenshot and importing it into a notebook slide. After the movie was over, the class sorted through the images and discussed which ones would stay and which ones could be deleted.

Timeline Creation

We then used a timeline from the notebook gallery and copied and pasted the appropriate screenshots onto the timeline.

I had shown a few minutes of the RSAnimated TED talk “Changing Educational Paradigms” with Ken Robinson to the students. The reason for showing it was for the drawing technique used and how the illustration captured what Robinson was talking about in a visual way. I was very surprised to see how “into it” the students got. They did not want to stop watching it. I am pretty sure that these ten year olds were not interested in Robinson’s message…

Drawing/Illustrating Notes

Visual Notes

Several students volunteered to wo(man) the backchannel on Today’s Meet. They are pretty sufficient in the process by now. They set up their own room, summarize what it happening in the classroom and then “clean up” the backchannel log (which is then shared as a Google Doc).


Several students were individually taking notes with the traditional paper and pencil method.

Paper & Pencil

Class Collaboration

We asked one of the “Paper & Pencil” note takers to come to the front of the class, after the video was over, to tell us what the movie was about. He could, of course, bring his notes with him and refer to them as he was summarizing the movie for the class. The students pretty much read the notes in bullet form to the rest of the class. Then we asked one of the illustrators to come forward and tell us what the movie was about. He could also refer to his drawing as he spoke. This student was able to stand in front of the class for about 10 minutes and re-tell a (general) story (in his own words) of the American Revolution.

Student Jobs~Responsibilities & Contributions

I am doing a lot of action research about giving students opportunities to become meaningful contributors to their own learning, their learning community and society at large. Alan November and his thoughts on Digital Learning Farm: Students as Contributors, the six roles to empower learners and Heidi Hayes Jacobs’ book Curriculum21: Essential Education in a Changing World are the driving force behind me.

Read about Digital Learning Farm in action:

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?

If you have a few moments, please fill out the following survey to help me get an overview of what you are doing in YOUR classroom. I will share the results in a future blog post. Thank you in advance.

Becoming Good Tutorial Designers

We are intensifying the quest to empower our learners by allowing the students to become contributors to their classroom learning community. Our model is Alan November’s six roles he outlines in The Digital Learning Farm.

One of these roles is The Tutorial Designer.

Alan asks :

“Who do students go to when they are having difficulties completing a homework assignment?”

Most of them will call a friend to explain to them what to do. By taking advantage of how students often understanding something better or are more willing to listen when a peer explains something, the idea of becoming tutorial designers comes in.

Not only will the student watching/listening to the tutorial benefit, but also the student creating the tutorial will benefit by breaking their own knowledge into smaller pieces and teaching it to someone else.
Teaching is the highest form of Understanding

Students don’t seem to be natural tutorial designers.How were we going to approach teaching good tutorial design to 4th graders?

I was in luck! Kim Cofino just happened to blog about a lesson she had done at her school, Students as Teachers- Sixth Grade Tutorial Designers. As always she has produced an incredible outline of her thoughts, implementation and pedagogy behind the lesson.

I decided to start out with an empty PowerPoint and ask students how they defined a “Designer”. After leading them into Kim’s inquiry based activity with three papers, I started taking photos of the students doing the activities and placing them in order into the PowerPoint slides. We also typed  observations students came up with after completing the activity.

As one class period came to an end and the lesson continued the following week, we used the PowerPoint to review what we already had learned about good tutorial design. Students helped me put images taken onto the correct slide and move them in the correct order in which they happened.

It did not occur to us until later, that we were also creating a tutorial- a step by step instruction- on HOW to teach Tutorial Design to elementary school students. Students identified techniques that they had liked from the video examples that we had watched together, such as

  • details
  • images (are worth a thousand words)
  • color coded words
  • make sure instructions are in order

We will meet next week again for students to take the next step, get into groups and start designing a tutorial which will focus on explaining “Multiplication” to someone else.

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