Sunday, December 23, 2007

Blogging, responsibility, and letting go

So much happened in my third grade classroom the week before Christmas Vacation. We finished up their first PowerPoint presentations ("How to make a six sided snowflake", done in cooperative pairs). They wrote scripts for a video of "how to make a six sided snowflake". This was to be their first video. They storyboarded, and they task analyzed - again. They performed and recorded, and a few partners actually produced a simple movie, with title/credits and some simple transition effects. I hope to have a few of them available on the Internet soon. Then they blogged - see below...

Holiday decorations 2007aThe last day they created "stained glass" windows. It's always tough as Christmas approaches in elementary school. Everybody wants to be visited by Santa, no matter what their religion. There are wish lists appearing everywhere, even on their blogs. So we went for it. Even listened to The Polar Express, by Chris Van Allsburg - read by Liam Neeson on that last day.

But eclipsing all this glitzy technology and holiday celebration was the WRITING they were doing on their blogs. I have not seen this much productivity before. There is a true writing frenzy going on in my classroom. I start and direct some of it, but a lot arises organically from the environment I've created. I have had to redefine and stretch that environment regularly - because my kids want to write.

(As you look below, please understand, for a teacher to be able so see for himself, for parents and kids to see, and indeed the world to look at an assignment and see what each child did with it, how they compared with their peers, etc - is just phenomenal. One more incredible development David Warlick has added to Classblogmeister!)

They write when they are supposed to at "writing time", but also when they finish other work early, when it's recess, when they have earned "free time", and so on. The culture of the classroom is changing.

When people talk about student directed learning, they are often referring to older students. Elementary school teachers are real clear on what happens when you just let students decide what they want to do - chaos - and not much learning. You can't just let them go, for goodness sake. Overly simplistic here, I know, but for a teacher, well, it can be a big stretch, and a larger leap of faith, to loosen the decision-making boundary.

But in my classroom of third graders, we have been playing with that boundary. It's not always pretty, and it's hard for the kids sometimes when they do not see, hear, and feel the teacher imposed boundary they are so used to. It's hard for the teacher, too :) It is a dance we do, the setting and relaxing of these boundaries and responsibilities.

Holiday decorations 2007bOh well. "Sometimes the magic works, sometimes it doesn't" - Chief Dan George, in Little Big Man - one of my favorite movie lines of all time. And that's what it often feels like right now. And in the mystery and uncertainty of the days just before Christmas, it feels good to go to a more relaxed and trusting place, knowing it is all good.

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