Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Shift of Control

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.


  1. What a great point - the tasks that students are asked to do aren't a radical change but shifting the culture to sharing the learning is. This is something we all need to remember as we try to make changes in our classrooms this fall - it is not about the jobs/chores/tasks but it is about the culture and the learning. Thanks for sharing.


  2. When you commented that parents and students were frustrated "because they wanted “results” immediately." I was nodding "Yup." The thing is, we can do our best to educate the students in our classrooms to design better searches and evaluate websites more critically, but this kind of learning and thinking needs to be part of teacher education and parent education. Technology. No matter how much we want to get ahead or be on the cutting edge, we are always behind.

  3. I agree completely with teachers needing to participate in collaborative cultures as well. How else can they experience the benefits and encourage their students to do the same? Your thoughts reinforced much of the thinking I had. Thanks for sharing!

  4. Reflecting on our own experiences as learners sure does help us to move forward! I think we all want to be in those supportive environments where asking questions (and not having answers) is okay. Thanks for sharing your insights with us!

  5. I think the best thing we can say to our students is let's learn this together. It really helps to model what we want to teach if we are the lead learner (to quote Paul Hankins).

  6. Remember the classic adage by Benjamin Franklin, “Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.” This is an excellent link for Ch. 3-4 because it summarizes the chapters. It is so interesting what we learn when we allow our selves to learn along with our student. I do this often with technology because I am learning along with them, but I learned in Chapter 4 some new lessons that I will emphasize as a researcher.

  7. Thank you for bringing up the 'stance of inquiry.' This is where the work is for me as a teacher. This September one of my classes will embark on an inquiry around the idea of global dignity. Global Dignity Day is October 16th, so we will have six weeks to unpack 'global' and 'dignity' and to explore why it's important (if it is)to honour such an idea. I anticipate being able to incorporate all of November's roles into my classroom as we share our learning together.

    I am excited about this opportunity. Last year, I worked with a grade 2, 5, and 6 teacher on their inquiries, and I am very compelled by the opportunity inquiry presents for intellectual engagement and motivation.

    Thanks for sharing your thinking,


  8. I think we all have to consider the notion of what researching looks like for our students. I know of a "safe" researching tool called Kidrex that can help limit content that's posts when kids are searching things out. As a primary teacher, I will be doing more of this by modeling it in the beginning...the Primary Blogging Community was a great way to connect with other classrooms-maybe this could be a model to look to.

  9. "This, I believe, is the bigger shift of control – to redefine classroom expectations." Isn't that the truth. Your statement gets at the heart of this shift. This isn't just about teachers giving up control, but about creating environments that support young learners as they take ownership of their learning.

    Suz, I must tell you how much I enjoy reading your reflections. Your words just flow across the page. Your use of examples and your connections to real learning situations make your points clear and keep me thinking.