I’ve been thinking a lot (again) about where we’re at with all of this from a student perspective and wondering (again) why it is that there aren’t more examples of kids using blogs (in particular) to make their thinking and learning transparent. I mean there is no doubt that more and more teachers are using the tools with their students, and that there is some residual learning that happens by that mere fact. But I’m hearkening back (once again) to something Tom March said in that interview at NECC about “where are the real best practices with kids using these tools?”

What got me started on this, actually, was the work that Jeff’s kids were posting to YouTube. Now before I go any further, I’m in no way demeaning that effort; I think it’s a great start down the road. But there has to be more here. At some point, I’m hoping Jeff will scaffold up from “the same-old-report in a different format that has a big audience” work to more “critical analysis of the content that we’re producing to test our ideas” work. I mean that, at it’s core, is what is powerful about these technologies. They allow us to take risks with our ideas, to test them in authentic ways with real audiences, and learn from the process. (In many ways, this post is a risk.) Why shouldn’t we be asking students to do the same?
Take the IBM video for example. What if next, that student does a second video (or writes a blog post) that deconstructs the marketing efforts of the company, shows how the brand is manufactured and sold in China, and includes personal responses to the advertising? Something that involves risking his ideas or interpretation with the payoff that the viewer (or reader ) will learn something absolutely unique, something that can’t be found at Wikipedia, and may, if done in a provocative enough way, motivate that viewer to respond. Something that genuinely teaches something new.

Now I know there are those who will suggest that for this scenario to truly play out, we need to open up student work to audiences in ways that we may not be comfortable with. But I look at the links to student work that Clarence posted today, think about how that content is “exposed” to open commentors (though I will guess they are moderated), and wonder how much more his kids are understanding the potential because of it. I mean, there is some nascent blogging (the verb) actually happening in those posts. It’s closer…
The shift with doing something like this is more than just safety, however. The real shift is with the stance of the teacher. This idea forces us to move away from delivering content as we have for 100+ years and instead move toward assisting students to discover content on their own. What are the ideas, concepts and examples that can be woven together to create meaning in the context of our class goals and outcomes? What personal learning can be made transparent that informs a larger discussion of the curriculum? It’s not our (the teacher) answer that is important.

We learn when we take risks. We learn when we fail. That’s one of the most difficult lessons I’m trying to help my own kids learn. It’s fourth grade, and for Tess, now the onslaught of grades really begins. Everything is a 97 or a 84 or (god forbid) a 75. Nowhere on those sheets is even an implied message that says “Congratulations! You got stuff wrong! What an opportunity to LEARN!” And so my daughter continues and will continue to look to the teacher in the room to deliver to her what’s important instead being compelled to discover, through managed risk-taking and safe failure, what learning may await her.
This is difficult work. Just ask Konrad and Barbara (and others,) both of whom continue to inspire me with the depth of their reflections about their practice and how disruptive these shifts are in their own work. But at some point, we have to get to it in ways that push our students farther down the same road we in this community are traveling. At some point, we have to see it more manifest in front of us.

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