Preachers don’t assign homework?
…is cross-platform and collaborative, and would allow me to assign my current “fantasy unit test” in history classes. That unit test would have students create a conversation from home featuring images and texts that is recorded and embeddable on their blogs — call it something like a recorded Skype conference + screencast.
I’d simply want small groups of students (individuals would be easy) to discuss the big events of the unit like the newly-educated budding subject area experts I’m trying to create — and to do so in a relaxed, informal, and audience-conscious way.
I picture that audience being their parents, and the “synopsis” of their “talk show” to be along these lines:
In today’s episode, the hosts talk about the often mind-bending beginnings of Chinese history, how radically different that history is from all other major civilizations’, and what those other civilizations might learn from China’s ancient beginnings that could still be useful in today’s world — with several detours for laughs along the way.
I picture the audience being maybe their parents, who might be curious to learn from their kids where their tuition dollars are going.
The problem? I don’t know a tool. My school allows Macs and PCs, and I don’t know how three or four students could do an online session with a shared desktop and screencast-recorder that also records conference calls.
Forays into Flipping
I’ve been edublog silent for a long time now, but buzz about the Flipped Classroom actually hit me human-to-human instead of via the interwebs. Teachers in my school are experimenting with it way out here in this Texan colony that is northern Singapore.
When it comes to social studies, though, I have a hard time seeing how assigning at-home readings for extension in class — a pretty traditional approach in history classrooms, in my experience — is not already “flipped.”
I did toy with the idea of flipping my classroom over the summer, though, was briefly active on the FC Ning, and played with podcasting and vodcasting content as homework during the first quarter of this school year. The experience left me with
- concerns that students read even less than many already do, possibly undercutting their readiness for college and adulthood generally, which expects advanced reading skills (but I could be wrong here; when I was in high school, I never read assigned hw because I wanted to read more interesting things like sci-fi and — if you laugh at the next one, you haven’t read the research — ’70s-era Marvel Comics);
- hard-won appreciation for how time-consuming the creation of quality podcasts or vodcasts is, and relatedly —
- ditto for how sadistic and morale-killing, good intentions aside, a poorly made teacher podcast or video can be.
I’ll add that students have overall volunteered their appreciation for image-enhanced podcasts. Last September, walking home from school after classes all day on Chinese philosophies, enjoying a thinker’s high about Confucius and the gonzo Taoist philosopher Zhuangzi (“Jesus doing stand-up comedy” is the best hook I can come up with), I sat under a tree and tried to share that high with my students in a talk into my iPhone voice recorder — the first 12 minutes on Confucianism, the last 12 on Taoism. I went home, slapped some images on top of the audio in Garageband (and took a photo from my 16th floor apartment of the very tree under which those thoughts found voice), and that was that:
Another similar “walk and talk” into that machine about “what goodness means” to a Hindu, a Hebrew monotheist, and a traditional Chinese person for my ninth-graders:
These got good feedback (“It’s interesting” is a nice review of homework, as is “it helped things make sense”). Occasionally students have emailed me special requests on topics we’ve covered in units since those efforts. I’m pretty convinced I’m more interesting talking into my iPhone than trying to deliver the same ideas live in front of the class. I’m less distracted by the clowns and corpses, more focused on the ideas, and less inhibited in letting my own impassioned interest come out.
But man, editing images in in Garageband takes a lot of time, and that time is just not available. I keep thinking I should go minimalist and do audio-only podcasts, and gauge student response. If still good, that’s much easier to pull off. Another option I’ve considered is having students collaborate with me by finding images for the audio lectures, and making them edit them into AV podcasts. Yet another possibility is to assign a crowdsourced transcript of the lecture by having each student transcribe, say, one minute of the audio lecture. 30 students could do 30 minutes and slap it all together on a Google Doc or wiki. That would provide a text that could replace the boring textbook.
But this semester my interests have changed. I want my students to have time to sit under trees too.
(Next to) No Homework: The Sweet Spot?
My current experiment involves not so much flipping homework as (almost) ending it. I’m using document-based lessons in which all reading and discussion is done in class, and the only homework is a reflective blog post about the day’s content on a team blog — which student team-members read and comment on with corrections, extensions, challenges, etc. I like this so far, for several reasons:
- it ensures all have actually done the reading and received the input (never a certainty with homework assignments)
- it ensures, moreover, that more students have actually understood the deeper implications of the readings, through the discussions clarifying the concepts and understandings following our read-alouds (we’re currently reading 3,000-year-old Western Zhou Dynasty passages from the Confucian Five Classics that bring out the teachings of Confucianism more powerfully than any textbook summary can, but that require close reading and clarification. So we read, stop, ask, and discuss; read, stop, ask, and discuss)
- it eliminates the “I read it last night but forgot most of it after waking up” that is as true for many adults as it is for students. We read and annotate based on front-loaded questions/reading purposes, take a couple of minutes to gather our impressions, and launch into talks with it all fresh in memory
- it makes the student peer-teaching via comments on the team blog more reliable (they read it and discussed it with the teacher’s guidance in class, so odds are at least two in a five-person team comprehended the finer points of the lesson and can reinforce them in blog comments by catching and addressing misunderstandings in their peers’ posts)
The short version: we read homework in class, discuss it in class, clarify and debate it in class — then briefly write about it at home. Hopefully this leads to less homework and deeper learning at the same time — and above all, to less aversion to school because of all that homework.
Maybe I need my head examined for the below, because figuring out how to do the schooliness and add a grade for so many types of assessment will be a bear, but I’m taking the plunge anyway.
What plunge? I’m inviting my students to do any projects along the lines below (copied from my high school / secondary History of China wiki. You’ll see cross-platform tools for Skypecasting for podcasts there, so far. I’ll be growing the list as I go — hopefully with your help in comments.). This does not mean they won’t be required to demonstrate required knowledge, understanding, and basic writing and speaking proficiencies along the more traditional lines. I’ll be testing those as well. But they will be able to compensate for any weaknesses in those assessments through projects that will carry equal grading weight with the essays and objective tests.
How I hope you’ll help: Drop a comment identifying
- Any modality or intelligence I left out in the “Top Ten” below that you think should be included.
- Any tool you think would help for any of the learning styles in the list. Because my school went 1:1 without requiring either Mac or PC — “Ready! Shoot! Aim!” — tools for both platforms are welcome. (I’ll add it to the wiki, which any interested person can simply copy-paste onto their own wiki page.)
- Any assessment tool for podcasts, films, screenplays, mashups, posters, and the whole Hee-Haw gang of products below. Links appreciated.
- Exemplars: Have a favorite real-world example of podcasters, digital storytellers, student bloggers or comic artists, musicians, game designers, on and on? Drop the link to show the possible.
Top Ten Reasons to Read This Page
Academic writing is not my strong point. Neither are bubble-tests. I wish I could show my smarts for test grades in other ways. Such as:
10. I’m a talker. Listen to me for ten minutes and I’ll show you I understand more than the test scores show — and I’ll be way more interesting when doing it.
9. I’m an artist. Let me make graphics — drawings, comics, posters, etc — that show my understanding so my scores are higher, and my class-work is more interesting to me.
8. I’m a clown. Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert do history the way I’d like to. Let me get playful like they do, and I’ll show you my smarts while (trying to) make you laugh and think at the same time.
7. I’m a musician. I’d love it if I could write and produce music about things I find interesting in this class for a history grade.
6. I’m interested in film-making. I’d like to practice the basics — pitching a movie idea by writing a short “treatment” of the plot and characters, or writing scenes in screenplay form and directing short snippets of them — and get test credit for it.
5. I’m a poet / rapper / songwriter. Let me set this Chinese history stuff in verse and give me credit for it.
4. I’m a gamer. Let me imagine video games about this stuff and write business pitches explaining how they would help students learn Chinese history through gaming.
3. I’m into business. Let me create business plans selling historical tours to China (or other ideas). I’ll plan itineraries, make the brochure for the history/culture tourism niche, and maybe make a buck off this class in the future by showing people there’s more than the bloody Great Wall to check out in China.
2. I’m a creative writer, not an academic essay writer. Let me write imagined scenes based on the history — slices of life, dialogues, first-person letters — or just more personal impressionistic pieces instead of doing the dry stuff.
1. I’m a journalist. Let me write feature articles about stuff that interests me in a magazine or newspaper format. Or let me do TV or radio announcing with it.
If you’re none of the above? Talk to me.
–again, dear readers: thoughts? Input? And how the heck do I assess? Links?