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Blogs and Labels are about Information Literacy

My Middle School is using blogger (part of Google) as a platform for our students’ blogfolios. The blogfolio (term coined by Andrea Hernandez)  is part blog and part digital portfolio. Students not only showcase their best work, but document their learning journey. A blogfolio shows student work at a particular moment in time (due to its chronological nature) with a reflective component to show evidence of growth and learning over time.

Using a blog as a platform amplifies the opportunities for:

  • social learning
  • for writing with a global audience in mind
  • for receiving feedback, new perspectives and becoming a link in the chain of learning of oneself and others
  • archiving information over time: organizing, linking, connecting, categorizing

One component of the blogging platform, that supports a strategic and pedagogical redefinition and transformation of learning are labels (as used in Blogger) or categories and tags  (as in WordPress).

Blogs and labels are  also about INFORMATION LITERACY. We are in the age of information overload. Our students will amass more and more digital information at a faster and faster rate. We have to prepare them to not only create it, but also to organize that information.

Labels/categories function as a tool:

  • for searching
  • for filtering
  • for curating
  • for organization
  • of assessment over time.

Our students use the blogging platform as their hub for documenting and reflecting on their learning. It means that they do NOT have a separate blog for Math, another one for Humanities or P.E. All there work is on one blog. With time that means hundreds of blog posts in one school year and potentially thousands of posts over several years. When not organized well, this can become… well… a mess…

Students won’t be able to find a particular post or another , when selecting blog posts for their Student Led Conference. It will make it impossible to search for specific posts, when not choosing blog post titles containing specific, related keywords.

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Teachers will spend more and more time having to look through hundreds of student blogs to find a post, created for their subject area. Instead they could have been subscribed (via RSS feed) to their subject specific category or tag, filtering like this other student blog posts irrelevant to their feedback or assessment.

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Labeling  becomes indispensable for bloggers. Being able to organize your work, tag it, categorize, group them and later on find them again IS PART OF INFORMATION LITERACY!

 

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As our school (K-12) is slowly spreading blogfolios across all grade levels, we have to look a labeling as part of  the “big picture”. How will we use the blog for growth over time?  How do we facilitate connections and the learning process for specific skills?A reader of a blog, should be able to tell, by simply looking at the list of labels/categories what types of blog posts the author likes to write about.

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When labeling, keep the following in mind:

Universal: It is important to keep labels/categories broad. When choosing a label/category, ask yourself if you will be blogging about this type of content again?… frequently?…. Think of your readers. Would a potential reader be interested in finding more blog posts like the one you just labeled with that category?

Less is more: The broader your labels, the less labels you will need in the future. The less labels, the easier for your reader to find items of interests.

Pre-set Labels: As a school community, we have pre-set labels, that we ask every students to choose from for EVERY blog post they publish. Grade Level and subject area labels are a must and the label “SLC” will be used, if a student chooses to highlight a particular post to present during their Student Led Conference. We are also asking students to label blog posts with the identified core values by the school.

Personalized Labels: Learning does not only happen in school during the pre-set hours of the school schedule. We are encouraging our students to document and reflect on the learning and the growth outside of the curriculum areas. Students will create (universal) labels for their out of school interests and learning that they choose to share on their blogs.

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When left to their own devices, some  label/category lists on student blogs have gone a little out of control. Hundreds of labels, when there are only 10 blog posts to date, do not help but hinder the information flow. I am recommending to be extra careful to not create the following labels/categories:

  • Two versions of the same label. Ex. reflective and reflection. Try to stay consistent.
  • Specific technology tools. Unless you are a pro at a specific tool and you envision to be writing regular posts about the mechanics, examples and tutorials about Photoshop, for example, do not label your posts with the tool you happened to use to create an image inserted into your post.
  • No need to label your post with your name…. this is your blog… supposedly all posts are by you…unless you invite a guest blogger
  • A specific book title. Although you might write two or three posts about a specific book, most likely you will move on to other books and never use the same book title label again. Better to use a label called “books” or “reading” in order to tie and connect with other posts about books you have read.
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Examples of current label lists of our student blogfolios

I am looking to learn with all of you. How can we support our student blogs with a labeling system that guides students in learning to work, organize and curate their own digital information? The digital information created by our studnets (inside and outside of school) will jut keep growing exponentially! How are you teaching students to label their work on their individual blogs? Have you created a system for your class or your entire school to facilitate multi-year blogging? How are your librarians and media specialists getting involved?

Further resources about labeling

Making the Connection: Pioneers of the “New World” and “Digital World”

Surviving-jamestown-1

Fifth grade students are getting ready to read the book “Jamestown” by Gail Garwoski.

A stirring story of survival set against the backdrop of the founding of the first permanent English settlement in the New World.
In 1606, King James I granted a charter to a group of London businessmen known as the Virginia Company to establish an English settlement in North America. In 1607, 104 men set sail aboard three tiny ships on a voyage to a new land. What they found became the first permanent English settlement in the New World-Jamestown.
Among the brave adventurers who made the journey was a young boy named Samuel Collier, the page of famed Captain John Smith.

How could we move away from assigning the traditional reading of the book (chapter by chapter), then writing a book report and possibly give an oral presentation in front of the class? How could we tie the lessons, delivery, supported skills and objectives NOT only to curriculum, but also to our Learning Target (based on and adapted from www.galileo.org )

MJGDS-LearningTarget-2

We are looking to move towards competency in five categories:

  • Learning Environment
    • Learning is engaging
    • Students are self-directed
    • physical environment conducive to learning
    • resources meet learning needs
    • learning is social and interconnected
  • Assessment
    • comprehensive
    • using a variety of techniques and resources
    • authentic learning experience designed, developed and evaluated
    • criteria are established for assessment
  • Role of Teacher
    • teacher as a learner
    • teachers as a cognitive coach and guide
    • teacher has strong instructional repertoire
  • Amplification
    • classroom is open & public
    • Teacher actively connects to larger global audience
  • Task
    • authentic
    • produces deep meaning

With that in mind, we had a brainstorming session with our 10 year olds. What did they know about the early settlers? What did they want to know?

jamestown4

What do we know?

We started with the traditional KWL concept and upgraded to KWHLAQ.

Could we compare pioneers and explorers who came to the Americas, the “New World” (with respect to the population who called these lands home and “their world” for thousands of years before the European came to “discover” it) and the “Digital World”. What were dangers for the early settlers? What are dangers for cyber citizens? Were there double standards for the old and new world? Are there double standards for the analog vs digital world?

By now, students are pretty independent in creating collaborative Google Docs to share with teachers and  their classmates to take notes. The concept of the Official Scribe from Alan November’s Digital Learning Farm is embedded and works naturally for our students.

Below is the screenshot of the initial brainstorming session.

Jamestown3

 

jamestown2

In our shared Google Doc, we gave students a prompt to expressed their initial thoughts about being an explorer in the Digital World and how it compared to being one in 1600s in Jamestown.
jamestown

We were not sure, if all student understood. 5th grade teacher, Shelly Zavon, wrote a reflection after our first meeting with the students. I especially like her blunt honesty,  that NOT EVERYTHING, not every class or lesson goes as planned nor well. We had to go back to the drawing board, we need to keep meeting every week to debrief after a lesson and tweak for future ones

I am hoping that the Jamestown project will come together soon. The idea is good; I just need to find a way to help the students dig deeper and start thinking on a higher level. For some reason, the students don’t like to be challenged to go to the next level. They want to do everything quickly and get to the fun part, which hopefully in this case will result in a music video.
With both of these projects, the students have had to move to a more advanced level of critical thinking (and accountability). I know this has been good for them, but is has been a grueling process for us teachers. I keep thinking, “learning is messy” and as Dory said in Finding Nemo, “Keep on swimming, swimming, swimming.”

How can we make the learning about Jamestown authentic? How do we connect the learning of the past and make it relevant to their present and future?

It just happened that Google Glass shared a new video with the request for applications to becoming a GOOGLE EXPLORER!

GoogleGlass-explorer

Two ideas came to mind:

  1. What if we were to ask our students to create a video with the same requirements as above (minus the last three points) to apply to become an Explorer , not for Google Glass, but for Jamestown. What would you do to become an explorer and leave for Jamestown?
  2. What if we were to ask our students to time travel with a device like Google Glass and take a video or pictures and they narrate/document what they are witnessing.

It really is about imagination. Can we crowdsource imagination? Did this topic spark an idea for you? How could we help our students dig deeper? How do we make it authentic for them? Please take a moment to not only read this post, but to contribute to all of our learning. Thank you in advance.

Twitter as a Curation Tool

I have written and spoken extensively about the use of Twitter in education:

In addition to the above mentioned uses of Twitter, I am increasingly becoming aware of the importance of Twitter as a CURATION tool for me.

The term “curation” in itself has become quite popular recently. I am not sure yet, if it is another term destined to become a victim of talking at cross purposes among the educational community.

Mike Fisher has blogged about curation and what it means versus the concept of collection.

Collecting is what kids do when asked to find resources for a particular topic. Usually, it represents the first 3 or 4 hits on a Google search, without meaning, discernment, or connections.

Curating is different. It’s the Critical Thinker’s collection, and involves several nuances (see Figure 1) that separate it as an independent and classroom-worthy task.

Mike created the following image to point out the continuum from collecting to curating

The stages and progression of using Twitter as a mere consumption tool of collected information (by others) to curating information, adding value with additional perspectives, connections,  resources or interpretation, the platform of Twitter as a potential tool for curation becomes evident.

There are different sides to Twitter as a Curation tool:

  1. Taking advantage of a network of curators working for you (building your own customized network), consuming their curated information
  2. Collecting, organizing, connecting, attributing, interpreting, summarizing the vast amount of information that comes across your desk/ feed /books/articles/etc.  for YOURSELF!
  3. Becoming consciously the curator for others for a particular niche, area of expertise or interest. Disseminate resources, add value, put in perspective, create connections, present in a different light/media/language.
  4. Real time curation allows you to be part of an event, that you physically might not be attending or being on the opposite end allows you to be the bridge for others to participate at an event where you are present, but your network is not.

Download Twitter as a Curation Tool as a pdf file.

Taking advantage of a network of curators working for you (building your own customized network), consuming their curated information.

Create lists on Twitter, that will clump together users who are experts and curators for a particular area of interest to you.

Ex.:

Follow #hashtags of topics or groups.

Ex.

Collecting, organizing, connecting, attributing, interpreting, summarizing the vast amount of information that comes across your desk/ feed /books/articles/etc.  for YOURSELF!

A few years ago, I set up the Langwitches Twitter Blog,  another WordPress blog under the Langwitches domain. Using the Twitter Tools plugin, any tweet, I am posting to Twitter, automatically gets posted to the Langwitches Twitter Feed Blog.

I am finding myself using the blog’s search function more and more when I am trying to recall a resource, need to quote someone, find a username of someone I interacted with on Twitter, etc.

Since I am increasingly using and relying on the search function of my Twitter blog, I am also more aware of the Tweets I am posting. I am carefully thinking about future keywords, I might be searching for in order to recall a particular tweet (s).

Consciously becoming the curator for others for a particular niche, area of expertise or interest. Disseminate resources with added value, put in perspective, create connections, present in a different light/media/language.

This is the difference that separates the “collectors” from the “curators”. Establish yourself as an expert, by sharing selected quality information freely. This is when YOU become the trusted member of a network that funnels QUALITY / FILTERED information to others.

Real time curation allows you to be part of an event, that you physically might not be attending or being on the opposite end allows you to be the bridge for others to participate at an event where you are present, but your network is not.

As the event unfolds in real time, you use Twitter to document and link what you are hearing, witnessing and learning.

I recently published a blog post outlining the symbiotic relationship between physical and virtual attendees of a conference: New Forms of Learning: How to Participate in a Conference 2.0 Style?

How else are you using Twitter as a curation tool? Please share.

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SLC

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