23 February 2013

COMMUNICATION

"England and America are two countries separated by the same language." 
George Bernard Shaw (87)

This is true also of teaching; global classrooms and non-global classrooms are two educational settings separated by the same communication systems. The world today requires us to have "a whole new set of communication literacies" (92); we need to educate learners in these technologies because "communications-savvy people are our best inoculation against the disease of inadvertent misunderstandings caused by technology glitches and nuances." (66) See also my blog post, 'Getting our wires crossed.'

"Creating an effective PLN is an essential 21st-century pull technology for students" (89)


My inaugural Project-Based Learning unit is written as the capstone for my PBLU Teaching Certification course. The Octopus's Garden Project, was written with this Flat Classroom Teacher Certification course in mind too, so I involved two grade levels to allow me to practise synchronicity and asynchronicity.

To aid communication in the project, I decided to use Edmodo. It had been used to deliver the PBLU course and I had found it a great way to communicate with all project members. Immediately, it became highly active with learners engaging with each other during and outside class times; it was a great way to communicate immediately with a group and allowed them to be able to respond to each others' questions; it allowed them to be able to help each other even if I have not had a chance to respond to queries. Without it, the amount of emails flying back and forth would have become impractical for most learners who were not yet used to being online for educational purposes.

Using the 'small groups' setting, I set up team groups within the main group, so learners within teams could send each other messages too. Edmodo allows us to add important information and reminders, as well as links to assignments, videos or documents; create polls about teachable moments or questions raised in class needing answers from all team members, plus keep track of progress and award badges for good effort, collaboration, sharing etc. All in all, it became a great collaborative communication tool; the learners love to use it and it is certainly one I will keep in my toolkit for future projects because it allowed us to lay the foundations for a successful learning network ,where learners could rely on each other - an essential component for the success of the communication and therefore the project.


"Having a stable routine is vital to digital-age work and learning" (67)

In helping to create the 'habits of mind' that require us to stay on top of our communication and to allow learners to take responsibility for their online and e-comm situation, learners decided on a five minute 'techtime' session at the start of each lesson to allow them time to check emails - all are striving for that zero inbox - as well as logon to Edmodo and get up to date with the lesson's agenda and any new posts.

"Communication is truly "flat" with access to everyone" (88)

When it comes to electronic communication, I have found that Edmodo is a great way to keep on top of email traffic and is both a synchronous and asynchronous tool that allows us to keep email in-boxes manageable. It is easy, it is free and it means teachers can be part of it, as well as parents. Once we go global, it could potentially mean that there is someone there 24 hours a day to offer support and guidance when needed.

What is also great about Edmodo, is that is has an app. This means that learners have the opportunity to be switched on all the time; they are able to engage wherever they are, they are able to respond and post pictures wherever they are taking learning beyond the classroom - flattening walls. It means I can also be connected to them all the time and get notifications as soon as learners post; I can also grade and comment and respond on my morning commute - a prefect way to make sure my time is productive.

"Over half the time spent on a global collaborative project by teachers typically happens before the project begins" (80)

This was completely true for The Octopus's Garden Project, which took over a month to plan out, and constantly evolves to meet the learning needs. You can read in more detail about the 'birth' of this project HERE.

In my school community, there is much misconception and uncertainty about different and non-traditional pedagogical methods of delivering lessons; many, I think, believe PBL in particular is about 'doing'; I, the teacher, do nothing, while the learners do all the work. Whilst I acknowledge that PBL lends itself to being learner-centred, it is not true that I sit around and let them get on with it - never have I worked so hard in fact. It is simply the nature of the work that is different to more traditional notions of what teaching is.

Most of my 'work' now the project is running, happens outside the classroom - in creating schedules, feedback, in addressing needs and issues that come up in lessons, and in coordinating skills workshops to address any gaps in knowledge that have arisen. During actual class time it is true that I may not seem to be 'teaching' in the more traditional sense of the word, but rather I circulate, participate and facilitate, I meet with teams and offer the support they need. You can read my reflection 'After Meeting with Teams' that was submitted as part of the PBLU course to gain more insight into how my teaching, learning and communication was organised in terms of the 'breadcrumbs' learners left to inform each other between sessions.

"Once it is cool to care, anything becomes possible" 
Todd Whittaker, 'What Great Teachers Do Differently (87)

One big thing I would change about my Octopus Garden project is the start: launch in PBL; handshake in FCP. As the project was planned to evaluate my learning in my PBL Teacher Certification, the starting focus was the exciting 'entry event' or launch; my reflection 'After the Launch' goes into more detail on my evaluation of this in terms of PBL. The start of any project is important but the 'launch' is an essential component of PBL however, the 'handshake' element of FCP works on, and develops this process and would develop a caring environment from the start.

I believe my learners involved in the Project would have benefited from a small handshake at the start following the launch. I think I neglected this part because, a) I had not done this course yet, but b) mainly, my planning didn't address any sort of need for this, because project teams are in the same school. However, they did not all know each other and had never worked in this way before - they have strong relationships now, but I think a handshake would have been great and would have established the strong and caring bond they have developed right from the get go.

"I enjoyed all of this project but if I had to choose one thing that I enjoyed the most it would have to be working with the grade sevens because I now am quite good friends with them and I feel I've made a few friendships which now mean quite a lot to me. In particular, what I like about working with them is helping each other and working in a really fun group with different people." Blog Reflection, G8 Learner, The Octopus's Garden Project 2012.

"Online behaviour has offline consequences!" (67) 

As an English teacher I found the section on 'Communication Ground Rules' very apt and interesting. Before embarking on my Octopus project, I did a Snapshots project that asked learners to think carefully about how they want to present themselves to the world - "profiles represent people" (67). The project commenced with an exploration of who they think they are through poetry, video and presentations, and included a 'paper blogging community' that allowed learners to explore this mode of communication safely. They were global-local in terms of the school community who could see their posts, which were stuck all over the outside of my classroom. Through sticky notes, they learned how to write helpful, critical comments and how they could remove any they did not like or find helpful. Once these rules were learned, we explored the consequences of online profiles upon our futures and then signed an agreement that had guidelines on how to be responsible digital citizens. This agreement included the need to use standard English to allow for clear communication in adherence with the belief that it is "an imperative for us to discourage IM speak in academic language because it is exclusionary and unprofessional" (86). Once they launched into Blogging proper, we linked up with some schools in the USA, the UK and Australia for Quadblogging to provide authentic audiences.

After reading Chapter 4: Step 2: Communication (62-96), I realise that running The Octopus's Garden Project, even between just two grade levels within the same school, has been an excellent way to practise the communication skills I need and they need to be successful - before we launch ourselves globally.

I think my work on this Project means that I got 'green' on the Self-Assessment Survey. We use project calendars, Edmodo, Blogger and Twitter to communicate with each other and the school community, so I have been able to practise using, implementing and trouble-shooting a variety of communication tools. The feedback told me:-

"You're in good shape. You need to be flexible if you want to collaborate globally, especially if you are creating a new project with the other teachers. Just follow the tips to prevent burnout and keep balance in your personal life."

I do think burnout is something I need to keep an eye on, as I tend to run headlong into things and get very enthusiastic and caught up. I have taken up my running again this year, as it forces me to spend some time on myself and gives me goals to achieve outside of the classroom. However, it is something additional that I need to fit into my day, which can also make me feel strained when I am a full time teacher, mother, wife and learner... But I truly believe that it is important to model learning and organisation and self-management - I can only expect my learners to step-up to these challenges if they see me challenging myself too.
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Lindsay, Julie, and Vicki A. . Davis. "Chapter 4: Step 2: Communication." Flattening Classrooms, Engaging Minds: Move to Global Collaboration One Step at a Time. Boston: Pearson, 2013. 62-96. Print.