Remember when you wrote about why you liked weblogs. I have done the same thing at an earlier time. First on my list was that I saw it as a good way to improve my own writing! So with that in mind, I am going to walk in your shoes. I'm putting up my first draft of a story I am working on about the Georgia-New Jersey Connection. Students, parents, colleagues.... I welcome your constructive criticism. Tell me what you like, what you don't like, and if you think I left important parts out, tell me that, too! I want you to know that I am feeling the same feelings you have felt. It is hard to put it out there for all to see, but I know I can make it better with your help! The story is below.....
Mrs. Davis The Georgia-New Jersey Connection
The Georgia-New Jersey Connection
"Great stuff, Anne! I think it's time we got your journalists and my journalists working together...what do you think? E-mail me if you're interested." Will
This email from Will Richardson, Supervisor of Instructional Technology at Hunterdon Central Regional High School, was the beginning of "The Georgia-New Jersey Connection", a weblog collaboration between two enthusiastic student groups. Will's email to me was in response to my elementary students writing their views of weblogs. I am an instructional technology specialist at Georgia State University. Having taught for several years in an elementary school, I am currently teaching a pilot group of fourth and fifth graders at J. H. House Elementary School in Conyers, Georgia. The objective of the pilot project is to explore the possibilities of using weblogs to discuss current events, teach critical thinking skills and to develop the writing potential of the students.
Simply said, a web log is a space on the web where you can write about a topic. You post what you write and it is instantly published on the web. Weblogs are entering the field of education. Educators across the nation are exploring ways to take advantage of this type of publishing and explore its use as a teaching/learning tool. These weblogs in education have also been referred to as schoolblogs or edublogs.
The elementary students have been busy learning the ins and outs of weblogs. Posts ranged from short news reports to reflections on what this new world of weblogs meant to them. The high school students are a journalism class who post to weblogs, work collaboratively cover beats, and make extensive use of the discussion tools on their weblogs. Mix the two and like magic...the dialogue begins.
Dialogue flowed between the teachers, the students, the classes, and yes, good dialogue between the North and the South. The interaction continued throughout the weeks to follow. This dialogue is unique in that it gives kids a voice that they have not had before. This new voice leads to learning discoveries. Each of us reads, writes, listens, thinks, revises, plans reacts, and responds to the dialogue that is going on through the posts, email, and classroom discussions. The teachers are sharing their learning through posts to other education webloggers. This continues and other educators takes the thoughts, adds theirs, and the collaboration expands to an even larger group. Weblogs are tools that can transform our learning process and extend and share the learning experiences in a way not possible before.
Will pointed his journalism students to our weblogs. Then his students posted responses giving their thoughts as to how they saw this collaboration working and any other ideas they had. Kristine, a high school journalist student said, "I think this is a really good idea...one of the many wonders weblogs have provided us with...working with children interactively miles and miles away." Jess went on to say, "I think that what we should try to focus on teaching them about is just how to put a story together. Lead, nutgraph, source, etc. Also, I think it would be really beneficial to the kids to ask us their specific questions about things they are having trouble with or are wondering about." So the collaboration began.
Listen to some of the high school student voices:
"I think one thing that you could do to this story is not use the word "kids" so much. I know that is who you are talking about, but maybe you could use a different word every now and then."
"I also read your story on Guion Bluford Jr. I must say that I am taken back by how detailed this story is. I still can't believe how mature your writing is."
"I looked at your two posted leads and they are excellent so far. You clearly showed you know how to construct a news lead. One thing I did ask myself was 'when' these things you talked about took place. Next time just include 'when' it happened because the reader may be interested."
"The quote was good and properly formatted but you never told anyone who Matt was, he just kind of appeared out of no where. You might want to introduce him as a source in the paragraph before. You could say something like "in this quote from Matt so-and-so,"
"Some ways to grab the reader's attention at the beginning of the story are one, start with an interesting quote."
"To practice with quoting, try talking with one of your parents, or any family member. Take good notes and try quoting and paraphrasing them. Show your teacher when you're done, and if you have any questions or did something wrong, then just let one of us here know. We can help you out."
Hear a few of the appreciative responses back from the elementary students:
"WOW!!! I'm sooo glad you sent this to me. I was terrified of nut graphs, but now I can't wait to do them."
"Thank you for giving me tips on journalism. I was overwhelmed with the thought that I have the privilege to have older journalists help me learn to become a wonderful writer."
"Thank you so much for writing to me!!!!! I love it when people come to my clubhouse and read what I have typed, and discuss it with me."
"Mrs. Davis said I was smiling like a Cheshire Cat. Well I am. While you are using constructive criticism you are also telling me what I'm doing right. Now I feel much better about you personally helping me. I believe I will really enjoy having you help us."
This type of interactive give and take continues. Two of the high school students, Meredith and Kristen, even took an entire news article and broke the different parts of a news story down for the elementary students. They linked students to further help and color coded the entire story so that the elementary students could visualize the different parts of the story. Wow! They made it fun. This fostered further dialogue between the two teachers and all the high school students wrote to their individual students and discussed another article in the same fashion. Then the elementary teacher was able to break the learning process down in smaller chunks for the younger students. They have a resource to refer to as they continue to learn and internalize new concepts and skills. Also, imagine the joy the high school teacher felt to realize that his students did this unsolicited. That was a teaching moment to treasure and remember. Yet, another type of collaborative learning made possible by weblogs. I can't imagine just how that would happen in another setting.
All the high school students put forth remarkable effort in helping the younger students. They then "turned the tables" on the elementary students by asking them to respond to their leads. Yet again, another type of give and take learning. Even though this collaboration will soon be coming to a close, Will's students are putting together mini lessons for them so their learning adventure on journalism will continue in the future. In closing, the elementary students posted their sincere thoughts and thanks to Will and to their mentors. Brianna said, "Thank you so much for letting your students interact with us. Interaction is a very powerful way to learn. When you have someone else to talk to and help you, it helps you become a better writer. At first I felt kind of upset about my writing skills but now that I have someone to talk with and share my feelings with, I think I have become a better writer. Thank you, Mr. Richardson, for permitting this extraordinary interaction." Dane summed it up well, "This way of learning is challenging and I have enjoyed every single minute. "
Weblogs are opening doors to possibilities that we previously could not consider. The idea is not for the high school student to literally teach the elementary student - all of us are teaching and learning from each other. I learned a lot from the work those two students did for my students. In turn, I can take what I have learned and bring something even better back to my students Will is learning, I am learning and both worlds can be the better for it - elementary and secondary. Those students who truly went above and beyond in an effort to help can be recognized and we all can celebrate the whole learning process. It's about his kids too, not just the elementary kids. I'm proud of all of them. We need projects like this so that the two worlds can at least start communicating together. Just think what we can learn!
We're talking about possibilities and others can perhaps take pieces of this, tweak it here and there, and come out with something really good for their classrooms. Thatú's what it's all about..possibilities.