In chapters three and four, November describes two roles for students – that of scribe and researcher. Although new technologies provide different avenues for publication, audience and sources of information, these roles are not new. Remember the classic adage by Benjamin Franklin, “Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.” Pre-digital times, I knew several teachers who sent home student-produced newsletters that described the activities of the week. Granted, in those days, the audience and feedback was not as immediate as a class blog. Which, of course, is part of what makes using technology so powerful.
Like November states, I also believe that having a public forum and audience for writing provides motivation for students to not only write, but to care more about their writing. The recognition from peers, parents and others is more interesting than a single grade from a teacher. On Twitter, I've seen many teachers ask Followers to check out and comment on their students' websites or blogs. I know students love tracking who had comments and where they are from. Many years ago, I had my 10thgrade students use a blog to learn about and respond to Cather in the Rye. This was a group of students who were reluctant to write about their reading in traditional formats like reading response journals or double entry format, but wrote multiple paragraphs when writing on the blog. Besides having a public forum and audience, there was a sense of legacy, as November stated, that encouraged them to revise and take pride in their writing.
For me, the student role of scribe and researcher doesn't seem very radical, but as November states, the challenge “will be redefining the role of learner as contributor, and building a collaborative learning culture” (p. 5). For too long, we have designed learning spaces that require isolated, individual learning and support competition rather than collaboration. This, I believe, is the bigger shift of control – to redefine the classroom expectations, not just introduce technology. And, as November also states, teachers need to do more networking and sharing of their work with their peers. I just completed a study with two third-grade teachers who team-taught in a workshop format. One of the most important catalysts to changing their practice was consistent, collaborative reflection. As teachers, we need to not only open our classrooms, but open our thinking to others.
As November talked about the role of student as researcher, I was thinking about how teachers typically respond to student questions – and not just in K-12 schools but in higher ed. too. I think the most typical response to a student question is to just give the answer. As a culture, we expect teachers and instructors to be experts in their area, and their role is to impart that knowledge to others. The second response I've noticed is the command to “Look it up.” This assumes that students know how to look things up – either in print or online. And, as November found, many students, though digital natives, have very limited repertories of search strategies. This past year I asked my students to research a family artifact. But, I spent almost two weeks in preparation to practice search strategies and evaluation of websites. It was a little frustrating for both students and parents, because they wanted “results” immediately. But, as November showed, there are a lot of bogus websites available, and the top picks of Google aren't necessarily the best. November talked about the website that denied the Holocaust, but here are two other websites that look legitimate but are hoaxes that I have used with students:
The final, less common answer, is the one November illustrated. Modeling a stance of inquiry, the teacher would say, "How can we find that answer?"
As a graduate student, I returned to university after numerous years as a classroom teacher. I felt overwhelmed by the amount of information and terms I didn't know and I felt stupid to ask, because it looked like everyone else understood. Some professors were supportive of having open laptops in class, other professors felt it was rude to have students typing away during class. In supportive classrooms, I was constantly looking up things I didn't understand and was afraid to show my ignorance. Because of this, I was better able to participate in discussion and understand the material. I try to remember this when I'm teaching.