Thursday, December 30, 2010

Chain Reaction

Exactly two years ago today, while preparing to be a guest on our PBS affiliate's Spotlight on Education program, I decided to investigate something that I had started reading and hearing about in my PLN. That "something" was Second Life, a multi-user virtual environment. I have to admit that the photos that I had seen taken "in-world" struck me as more video game than learning tool and not being a gamer, I didn't have a lot of initial desire. I figured that I would spend a couple of hours investigating it's potential and move on never to return again.

However, I found quite the opposite to be true. The first person I met was Serena Offcourse (Mary O'Brien- a 3rd grade teacher from Maine). She helped me over the steep learning curve and encouraged me to stay the course, be patient, and explore the possibilities that Second Life could offer to an educator. Through her encouragement, I met many other outstanding educators and attended numerous formal, informal, social events and learning opportunities. I found that everyone I met at these events was very accommodating and willingly shared their expertise and advice. I was also invited to speak and share my experiences and insights to others on their learning path to becoming stronger educators.

Because of these opportunities, not only did I grow immensely as an educator, but the true recipients of my experience that began two years ago today are my students. Because of the learning that I gained from Second Life, my students are now involved in a cross-country, collaborative writing project with over 300 students in grades three through seven; an authentic audience, a real reason to write. The students are designing the projects to publish on their digital journal using tools that I learned about through my experiences in Second Life.  As a result, my students are actually providing a model for other teachers and districts, providing podcasts where they communicate, from their point of view, the importance of the writing, collaborating, and creating that they do.

So who would have thought that on a cold and rainy day two years ago that my students would become the teachers leading with tools that time, I had never heard of? Definitely not me. It serves as a reminder for me to seize opportunities because an amazing chain reaction can be set in motion that can revolutionize our classrooms.

If you are interested in learning more about Second Life, here are a couple of YouTube videos that demonstrate the power of this medium. And of course, if you're ever in-world, you can always message me (Austen Rae).

Monday, December 27, 2010

Focusing on the Journey

Greg Anderson once said, “Focus on the journey, not the destination. Joy is found not in finishing an activity but in doing it.” I recently came to an end of a year and a half long journey in writing my first book for Stenhouse Publishers. As I am spending some of my holiday break finishing up some of the last touches, I have had many friends and colleagues remark about how relieved I must be to finally have finished. I have to admit that a part of me is finding a bit of a relief. However, I have found that I am also a bit sad to see this journey come to an end. Although there were times where I felt I would never be able to complete this enormous task of authoring an entire book, while teaching full time, and maintaining our family life, I found joy in reflecting upon my practice and putting it into words. It was joyful for me to make a new discovery about myself as an educator and about why something works with my unique learners.

As I pondered upon that self-discovery, I  moved my reflection towards my students and their learning journey. I realize that for many of us we only get to be a guide for part of their journey. Are we spending time helping them to find joy in their accomplishments, no matter how small they may be? Or are we sometimes so caught up in the all of the required paperwork that we lose sight of the daily growth each of our students is making?

One practice that I've used for a couple of years is having each of my students set individual writing/communicating goals. We write constantly; some is traditional paper-pencil writing; some is done digitally. I set up a basic table in Microsoft Word and when I spend time conferencing with my students. I let them look at a current piece of writing and analyze their strengths and weaknesses.  Each young author then sets an individual goal to work on in their writing, across content-areas, formal or informal. I love when we spend time conferencing and they joyfully discover that they have grown and reached their goals. They are so eager to set a new goal.

In the interest of helping my students find more joy along their journey, I plan on having them spend their first few minutes in reflecting upon where they've been, where they are, and where they want to be when our portion of their learning journey is completed. It sounds like a joyful way to begin the second half of our school year together, don't you think?

Here are some other sites about the importance of having students set their own goals: