Tag Archives: discussion

Our year is over – tribute to Maria

Photo courtesy of langwitches

I just realised I haven’t written a post since November. That tells you a little about the frantic and even disjointed month we’ve had, as well as December being a time to showcase, wind down, enjoy simple hands-on Christmas activities, and sundry things.

I’m not sure about Maria, who leads a much more hectic life at school than I do, and who is about to make a major lifestyle change and move to another town, but for me, these last few weeks have disappeared unexpectedly, and I find myself wondering where all the time went.

There were still things we had planned to do. Planning with Maria was so much fun; we were like little girls cooking up schemes and dreaming of possibilities. And although we didn’t have time to do everything we planned, in retrospect, we came a long way.  Our boys started out as barely-out-of-primary school, bewildered and full of silly questions (“Do I rule a margin?” “Should I use a pen or a pencil?”), and finished their first year of secondary school having shared discussions about things that really mattered, having collaborated on chosen projects, expressed themselves in oral presentations, supported each other and learnt from each other in ning forums, laughed and chatted about films, shared personal stories, and much more.

They had taken on the challenge of the ning – something new and foreign to them, not in terms of technology so much as in terms of commenting and responding to others in discussion. They had been fortunate to interact with two authors online, learning from these people directly instead of just reading about them.

What do I think they have gained from our English class?

There is the visible and the invisible learning. Yes, the boys have demonstrated their learning both orally and through written responses.

But they have also sat quietly and not given away what will stay with them forever. Our boys have experienced a passionate, caring teacher in Maria, a teacher who believes passionately that the boys’ education is not just about grammar and essay writing skills, but about learning to appreciate beauty, to respect others, to think more deeply, to develop empathy and appreciate difference.

Sometimes I watched as Maria taught, and I knew that their attentive silence disguised secret internal activity. I could see that they were soaking in a kind of learning which keeps you going for years and years. I knew that these boys would remember their lessons for years to come, and perhaps express their learning eloquently one day to others who would learn from them.

Learning together. Learning for life.

Thankyou Maria xxx


School of Rock

The boys have really been getting into The school of rock.

They seem to be enjoying it so much, Maria and I are thinking that maybe we should have let them watch it at the beginning of the year. They’re engaged, they respond to discussion, they’re making connections – bliss. Or maybe it’s just that all our hard work – trying to awaken their powers of observation, to encourage them to think critically and creatively – maybe the fruits of our labours have finally started to come through.

I was thinking that the boys have been raised on media – it’s not really surprising, on the one hand, that they are in tune with the interpretation of visual clues. However, watching lots of TV and film does not necessarily produce critical analysis. This is where I’m hoping that we’ve had some influence in gently prodding (what am I talking about! pushing from behind!) the boys into a way of thinking and responding. Or just having guided discussion so often that it becomes a mindset.

To me, this is literacy. Doesn’t matter if they’re reading a book, watching a film, reading a graphic novel or listening to music – being able to talk about what you’ve observed and the reasons for your thinking is what literacy is about.

Following our discussions throughout the viewing of the film, we’ve put up a few questions onto the ning – the same ones we’ve talked about – as a way of consolidating the discussion, and allowing the boys to formulate these ideas into their own words. These are just short answers, but the idea is to provide regular time for sustained responses.

It’s also important for them to feel a sense of community by reading their colleagues’ responses and respond to these. As I’ve said before, in this way, they’re not writing for the teacher alone, they’re writing for each other.

These are our initial questions:

List some of the stereotypes represented in the film. What message about body image do you get from the film? Which characters have a problem with body image? Why do you think that is?

Dewey has an unusual style of ‘teaching’. What do Dewey’s students learn from him?

It’s not about the technology

‘It’s not about the technology’ has become a catch-phrase of mine. My experiences with Maria Toomey with 7M Ning has convinced me that good teaching is at the heart of the use of technology in education. Just as laptops in themselves do not provide a solution to student disengagement, so do Web 2.0 technologies, such as the use of Nings in the classroom, do not teach themselves. Maria and I have always provided scaffolding for the use of the Ning, unpacking questions, creating discussion, encouraging critical thinking.

I’d like to share the videos I made when I interviewed Maria about her Ning experiences; these are part of our Powerful Learning Practice presentation and can be found on this page.