Sunday, May 20, 2012

On Thinking About Learning

Last week my students were interviewed about their use of technology in relation to digital storytelling. They were proud and pleased to be able to share their work and eager to talk about it. As part of the process they showed off their videos of their novel studies, their blogs as a character from their books, and their research blogs. I listened to bits and pieces of their conversations but did not want to get too close to distract them.

During the interview they were asked if they learned better when they used technology. When they said yes they were asked how the technology helped them learn. One student replied that it made you become the character you were studying. This answer intrigued me as I never thought of it from that perspective before. As the year progressed all my students have  become the character they were studying and have been able to blog about their trips to Barkerville during the time of the gold rush, exploring Canada, trading furs and working as a blacksmith in Ft Langley, or working on the railway as a Chinese immigrant.  They have become characters in a variety of novels they have read and discussed in literature circles as  they made videos of their books as well.

Today,  I  looked at the book Making Thinking Visible.  It  has been twittered about this last week and I was curious to see what all the tweets were about. As I read a portion of the book on thinking and developing understanding, I realized that what I had watched this year was the unfolding of exactly that. I began to reflect on the thinking and collaboration involved in each project and how they contributed to understanding. The book asks us to reflect on "What kind of thinking does this lesson force students to do?" And so I did.

This year my class spent more time on each novel or project we worked on, and delved deeper  when they became a part of each. They worked in groups and each project they took on required them to problem solve as well. They needed to determine which parts of their story they wanted and needed to complete tasks assigned to them. They also needed to work together to find ways to portray their work. The work itself had to be divided up, and each portion of their projects required collaboration and preparation.

 When they made movies they spent hours deciding:
  •  which were the key parts of the book they needed to tell the story, 
  • how they would begin and end their movies, what sets they needed, which characters they would include, 
  • how to change their stories into scripts, 
  • how to add emotion and interest to their work, 
  • which details to focus on. 
To film they needed to figure out:
  •  how to set up their films, 
  • how long each scene had to be to include the voice overs they needed to add, 
  • how to find extra light to film, 
  • how to use the apps to create their movies and books
By the time they had completed the project they had invested much time and effort in dissecting the content they were studying and reassembling it again.

When they blogged they had to make many decisions on
  • the content they would include, 
  • how to use details effectively
  • what illustrations they would make, or what photos they would need  to include

 As we worked through each project I worried about the time involvement for each. Were we taking too long?  Was each project and effective use of time? Would students finish with a deeper understanding of the content they used? How could I evaluate each student's learning effectively?

It is gratifying to know that the students  think they have learned more and have a deeper understanding of the content we set out to learn about. They felt that they would remember more about the topics than if they had just read about them, answered questions, or written reports.

My personal observations of the time they spent actively engaged and the collaboration required in creating the movies, books, and blogs would mirror those of the class.

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