Tag Archives: Ning

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?

Back to school

Back to school for the last term of the year, and the second day of Daylight Saving – not a great way to come back, but we survived.

Maria started by asking what the boys did during the holidays – I always find that serves a dual purpose: beginning gently by talking about the students, and also showing them that she’s interested in them, and sharing stories amongst the students. Some students were fortunate to be able to go overseas in the two-week break – one travelled to Thailand and another to Africa.

I explained to the boys what I’d uploaded to the ning during the break. Firstly, the screen shots of the film, School of rock, which they’ll be studying soon, along with questions to spark thinking and analysis of the film.

Zack’s father has strong views on playing the electric guitar. What are they? What impressions do you get of the relationship Zack has with his dad?

Trivia: The finger point and nod that Jack Black teaches Zack is actually a move that Angus Young of AC/DC performs in concerts.

Each screen shot has a comment box so that students can write their answers, and these can all be viewed together, as well as further commented. It really works so well, so much better as a collection of responses visible to everyone, and enabling further discussion, than the usual collection by the teacher of separate responses with no further response from the class.

Next we toured the fiction blog, looking at reading possibilities, checking out author websites and trailers. We looked at Anthem of a reluctant prophet by Joanne Proulx. The book has its own, attractive website, Stokum Sucks.

The boys were impressed that the book came with a playlist (I think). We also looked at a post entitled If you like this, then you’ll love that, with ideas for similar series or genre.  Then we scrolled and skimmed, reminding the boys to check the blog regularly for reading ideas. During lunch the boys met Maria and me in the library so we could help them choose books.

And that was that. First day of fourth term. I think we’re going to have a good one.

It’s been a good day

After all our early struggles and frustrations, what  relief and joy to experience smooth sailing. Touch wood. Maria and I were grinning at the end of today’s lesson because boys were connecting easily to our ning, and we were enjoying the fruits of our previous labours.

First of all, we looked through Allan Baillie’s responses to the boys’ questions. I’m not sure what the boys thought, but they kept it to themselves as usual. That is to say, they were attentive but not jumping up and down. That’s all we can expect, I think.

We discussed the fact that even Allan Baillie made typos. We talked about how, if you had a great story to tell, you could work through the editing  process to arrive at the polished product. I think it’s important for them to understand that having something to say, having a story to tell,  is the most important thing, and that it’s possible even for a student who doesn’t think he’s ‘good at’ English to work through the drafts, with help if necessary, and end up with a great piece of writing.

Some of Allan’s replies were worth singling out – there were answers that obviously revealed things about his writing process and decisions which we wouldn’t have know from his biography or website. Maria and I find that fantastic.

Since the boys are working on a Little Brother project with many parts, allowing choice and variation in presentation, it was a good time to show them Flickr. I showed them how to find the best photos of Cambodia and related things, talked about sets and pools and tags, talked about Creative Commons, and good behaviour in photo sharing, and they listened attentively because it was relevant to their needs.

Lastly, I showed them Tag Galaxy which is such a beautiful and absorbing visual search application, and that was a wonderful way to finish the lesson. Our flickr searches found some fantastic photos with interesting information that we wouldn’t have found on Google Images.

The great thing about the ning is that it’s dead easy to add links and explanations in a spot where the students can find what they need at a later time. I was able to put in the link to Creative Commons on Flickr as I went. Since we don’t expect students (or anyone) to retain what we tell them in class, it’s good to have a designated space for them to go back to when they’re ready to have a more detailed look.

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.