As my students are now putting the final touches on their parts of the collaborative journal that they are publishing with students from across the country, I realize how much my students have grown in the few months that we've been together. This project is 100% student-driven. For each edition of this journal, the students select a theme wherein each group, from each of the eight different classrooms, can create and publish.
The teacher's role in this project is one of a guide, a facilitator of learning. This shift from teacher-driven instruction to student-driven learning was a scary proposition the first time I decided to let go, and let the students' ideas flow. See, even though the students are selecting the type of writing, creating and publishing that they will pursue, I'm guiding them in making choices that will teach and reinforce the standards for each of the content areas, while helping each student meet his/her individual goals.
The theme that the students chose for this edition was "exploring the habitats around you." Although my students had already studied habitats a couple of months earlier, I figured that their writing would just reinforce their learning. As it turns out, these writing projects took their understanding to a whole new level of mastery.
As a class they decided that they each wanted to create a digital story from the point of view of an animal or plant that lives in our area of Alabama. Since my students had not previously done any digital storytelling and with our limited time, I was hesitant to agree.
Of course my students, once again, showed me that this was the way for them to learn. One of the students, who completed his work, asked to go to one of our classroom computers and create a list of plants and animals that live in Alabama. The students then went to him to select their animals and started doing some basic research about their animals. Then they began composing their stories adding in a mixture of humor and facts, telling each animal's story. As we began conferencing, I was amazed at how quickly they had gotten these first draft written. The last writing project that we had done had taken two weeks to get this far.
Within a week of squeezing in time to work, over two-thirds of the students' stories were complete. There was a combination of digital stories, podcasts, comic strips, digital videos, and Choose Your Own Adventure Stories. Now they are eagerly anticipating their next project.
What caused this shift? I put the students in the charge of making decisions. I didn't assign anything; they assigned these projects. They know that an authentic audience of students from across the country is waiting to read, watch, listen, and comment upon their work as my students are anxiously awaiting for theirs. Looks like that little shift made a really big difference in our learning environment.
Here is a story about using collaborative technology to promote critical and creative thinking: