ZIS COETAIL Course 4 Project – Vertical Collaboration on Media Rubrics…And Beyond!

Crossposted from ZIS COETAIL cohort blog.

Shea and I worked on revising media rubrics for our Course 4 project. In my two years at ZIS, we haven’t done much cross-divisional work between English curriculum areas (CA), probably because we are busy, busy, busy people. As such, this has been a very illuminating peek inside the villa, checking out how the English CA is using rubrics to assess and instruct student writing and media creation.

My original media rubrics assessed the media product. For performance assessments, the performance itself often makes up the assessable product, so this made sense. These rubrics were based on the Upper School English CA’s Writing Rubric, which they developed themselves before my arrival. However, later media rubrics focused more on the genre of writing or media that students were asked to create. Interestingly, feedback on the earlier rubrics from students was that they weren’t terribly helpful for reflection or identifying areas for improvement. Because we were learning media creation from consuming and analyzing media models, such as Radiolab for podcasts, I asked students to write our News Writing rubric based on the models they listened to and read, but in a different form than earlier. My Masters action research was on student created rubrics from models and I am a big fan because students determine, and therefore internalize, the expectations for outcomes.

I chose to use a blank 6 Traits rubric because I have used the 6 Traits for years and find the breakdown apt for decoding and planning good writing. Students filled in the blanks based on what they saw as good, bad or mediocre. When we reached the conventions band, we realized together than, as some groups were writing and others were podcasting, we needed dual conventions bands for each media type. This really proved powerful. Recently, I have begun working on a video rubric, as the kids are doing investigative reporting and creating a video report. Through revising my existing rubrics to jive with Shea’s, I had an epiphany that drew also on the earlier experience of student created rubrics: Media is determined by conventions. I never needed that podcast rubric, but rather needed kids to know the conventions of the form. In addition to adherence to conventions, content, style, creativity, and format determine quality. Rubrics should reflect degrees of quality.

As I began to work with Shea, sharing feedback and making revisions, what became obvious is that our 5 column rubrics clashed with the middle school’s four column rubrics. A four column rubric is best because it eliminates the lure of the middle ground and forces a decision on the part of the assessor. I often borrow bits from grade bands as I assess a piece, which is as much a part of how I write rubrics as how I see student work. However,the new four column rubrics wound up stronger, I believe, than their predecessors. You may also note the blank band for video conventions. My students are viewing more media examples this weekend in order to fill in the blanks on Monday. Next, they will create a rubric for investigation and we will simply copy and paste the genre conventions below, merging the elements of quality into one rubric.

As I review these rubrics today, I see room for further improvement: “Sentence Fluency” could be better described (students wrote that, though, so it is meaningful to them). Also, what Sentence Fluency means for video may be so abstract as to demand a new band title. We’ll see. However, this process has led me to understand instruction and assessment of media creation in a new, more purposeful way. We can’t divorce content from form, period, and so our assessment tools should reflect that.

Further, by collaborating with Shea, I have seen in her revision an excellent clarification of media conventions wedded to content – media literacy demands are now embedded directly into her “Sell It” rubric. Also, I really appreciated her addition of an “Overall/Voice” band, which ties together the norms of an advertisement with the voice behind it. I’m not sure how to incorporate this into my current rubrics, but I will be considering a way to do so because it succinctly and explicitly illustrates the purpose for and function of the project’s outcome. Cool!

Working with Shea was great because it made creating better rubrics easier. Working together made my process much quicker and my final products stronger, less cluttered, and based on increased expectations for success. I look forward to more vertical teaming with Shea and my middle school colleagues in the future, not only because it is an enjoyable learning experience, but because it improves my teaching practice and, by extension, student learning.

The NETS and Good Teaching

Cross-posted from the ZIS “COETAIL” group blog.

When I read this question seeking a gauge of how important the NETS are to good teaching, I experienced a massive wave of cynicism that was broken by returning to the standards. Promoting creativity, designing progressive curriculum and assessment, modeling skills, engaging with ethics, and continually learning are lofty and important goals. Are these essential for good teaching? Yes.

I heard the term “common formative assessment” this weekend from a fine educator in the States, which seems like Orwellian English for standardized test. In too many US schools, students are treated as interchangeable parts, completing identical tasks or tests for data. Data makes great spreadsheets, but I’m not at all sure how that is formative. For the love of all that is sacred, can we not cultivate creative acts? How much more interesting for everybody – pity these poor teachers delivering the assessments, too – if kids spend common time in school or between schools working on a self-directed or cooperative creative, authentic activity. The data could be gathered in a celebration of creativity, an exhibition, and/or a website, if not shared in a more organic, authentic manner. Just NET Standard 1 is a powerful reminder that school can be real, based on actual problem solving driven by students. If all teachers and administrators stopped at #1, school would be a more dynamic place, full of uncommon formative assessments.

NET Standard #2 is fine. It’s probably the least important of the bunch for me. I do this, but most schools don’t rain iPads and software, so I’m going to give everyone else on Earth a pass on this one, in terms of being a good educator.

NETS numero tres is fantastic. What I love about this statement is that it begins with demonstrating fluency and then moves into collaboration, communication, and critical research skills. By demonstrating fluency, I imagine this standard to mean that we don’t write a blog post and then behave like we’ve pulled a rabbit out of a hat, but rather use a blog platform to do what blogs do – communicate information. We make a video to share information that benefits from a visual platform. We snap photos with our cell phone when we need a photo. So we model fluency because we are fluent; the environments that we use this fluency, at whatever level of proficiency we have, to build are what matter most. If I ask students to write a descriptive essay about Genghis Khan or a pterodactyl using the five senses, I wonder if I am fluent in using my senses or in writing (have you tasted a pterodactyl? To be fair, it’s probably a lot like chicken). If I ask students to burp into a Voicethread and call it a project, I wonder if I am fluent in project management or design (the Voicethread bit is easy enough to learn). Anyway, that’s why this standard is essential, because it transcends the digital.

NETS number four, ethics. Essential. We should treat ethics as a vast field for exploration and reflection, not as a whipping post for the unwashed, of course. There are no children who I have met without a finely honed sense of justice, and if you doubt the accuracy of that statement, hand out brownies of different sizes tomorrow in class. However, students are rarely encouraged to explore the foundations of their belief and value structures, much less to use these as a means for engaging with the world beyond their heads. Making real-world issues available for exploration in the classroom lights students on fire and teaches important skills like reading, writing, arguing, and critical analysis. While it’s hard for me not to jump up on the soapbox when class discussions range into ethics, for example, or responsible, active citizenship, I also make a point of exposing my own biases and their ethical foundations, as well as how these ideas create a lens through which I encounter information online or elsewhere. Sometimes I appear as a real person to kids, I think, which is powerful. I also like the focus in this standard on using technology appropriately to reach out to peers and communicate openly. All around, #4 is good stuff for good educators.

And finally, #5. If you ain’t learning, you’re dead. And dead educators are often less effective than live ones, but not always. Zing!

 

Digital Footprints, Networking, & Conformity

My school recently did a digital footprint exercise with our students, asking them to Google themselves and check out Intel’s Museum of Me. I found our the exercise interesting not so much for the ah-ha moments, which some students had, but for what I didn’t see. Truly, most students are on board with the basic concepts of what might be called digital citizenship or understand how to cloak their poor decision making with anonymity, protecting their footprint while being a poor digital citizen. Basically, I didn’t see surprise; I saw students who pretty quickly grasped the concept of building a positive digital footprint so that a namesake on MySpace can’t cast too long of a shadow over their relatively good names.

However, they’re not too worried about college admissions or job prospects, and I think that what I want to call the Dan Allen Effect is to blame for this. Like a kid in a giant metropolis, they see the odds are in their favor and don’t see that the graffiti is likely to lead to big problems down the line. They’re happy to have all the other Dan Allens create so much white noise that they can operate happily unnoticed. I calculated my digital footprint using the tool linked to Moodle and I’m well over a terabyte and climbing. That’s a lot of white noise. I can’t decide if I agree or if I see this as a self-defeating, tragedy of the commons sort of problem.

The other piece that I have sympathy for is that they hear a message to conform and blow it off. Articles like the USA Today bit just sound ridiculous – post a list of people who share the same name as me? Looking past the redundancy that seems so obvious to me, does it look worse that I cyberstalk my namesakes or that some dude in West Virginia with my name also goes by Tweek on his forgotten MySpace profile? The subtext of these pieces is submit and be predictable.

What I like much more is a focus on the power of networking and networking literacy. Like Clay Shirky points out, transparency is a sharing of ourselves in order to get back more in return, what he sometimes calls reputational capital, amongst other benefits. Surfing through my different groups of Facebook friends, I quickly see the social norms of their closest social group and cultural context; the Kyrgyz kids are sharing Pan-Turkish media and political messages, the folks from my small town deride the hippies at Occupy Wall Street and shout for them to get a job, and the members of my Peace Corps group post messages of OWC solidarity. I would argue that these people are creating identities and reflecting their identities beyond virtual networks in ways that they also do in the bazaar, at the tackle shop, or while waiting for the barista. Kids do the same thing in social networks, reflecting the identities that they think will win them the most reputational capital, or cool points, and are at their best when they employ these tools ethically, to contribute and build.

Of course, kids are slow to see social pressure as a force of conformity and quick to view messages from the elderly (like me) as demands for conformity. My bet is that the kids who will try risky, thoughtless, or silly behaviors online to look cool at one moment for a particular group are the same who will try these behaviors offline. When I was in Berlin, I saw a great quote from Ludwig Mies van der Rohe: “True education is concerned not only with practical goals but also with values.” I wonder if, amidst all the furor about digital footprints and citizenship, we should focus more explicitly on the nature of the behaviors we value, on footprints and citizenship. I know that we do this already, but the relationship is so clear to our discussion that it bears mentioning. By teaching kids to use their power to be positive contributors for their own sake, if not for the sake of others, empowerment might overcome the urges to be destructive to self or others. If not, at least we’d be exposing the values we teach rather than keeping them implicit, which sometimes feels coercive to me.

The iPad 2 for Learning: First Impressions

I have received an iPad 2 prior to a pilot program that my Digital Journalism class will be a part of this year and after a few days of playing, I see possibilities, but wonder if the iPad 2 can rise above its functional design concept.

In short, the iPad is clearly a window for consumption, consumption of media, consumption of goods, and primarily for consumption of iTunes downloads. Compared to my Android phone, the iPad suffers from a dearth of high-quality free apps. Some exist, clearly, but the initial flow of all information is via iTunes and the structure of the iPad’s OS relies heavily on their proprietary software. That’s kind of a drag after experiencing Android for the past six months. I may find killer free, open source apps for the iPad yet; it’s still new to me. However, that’s not the design concept.

Additionally, the iPad is tough to be beautifully creative with. It’s possible, but it’s not as easy as a comparable laptop computer . Free online resources like Aviary become a number of costly proprietary programs like iMovie and Garage Band. My biggest shock so far (I obviously am not a golfer) is that the iPad doesn’t run Flash on Safari. Wow. Again, the design concept won’t allow it, or savvy people would never buy Garage Band. Apple’s desire to control the usage of it’s products has led me away from iPods and all things iTunes, but now it’s all back like Ferris Bueller’s sunglasses and fedoras thanks to the iPad. The iPad interface is locked down and all conduits to information are via Apple. It’s worth considering the medium and the message when we give these fun toys to kids.

On the plus side, the iPad takes good snapshots and video. It’s no Leica, but the possibilities exist, especially for crowdsourced content for student online journalism. My initial impression is that the iPad should be wed, like all media machines, to media literacy with an emphasis on media creation. This will require an upfront  capital outlay on Apple software that will allow for such creation or as a viewpoint of the iPad as a capture device first, with student laptops as the media studio, which is what I am leaning toward. Additionally, the iPad seems fairly well equipped to become a nice journalism tracking device for informed media consumption. Student journalists should be able to follow a wide variety of journalism in print, podcasts, and video form through RSS feeds, but I haven’t found a really great free, ad-free reader. With ads, plenty of options exist and work fairly well, although I haven’t seen one with folder capability yet. The design says consume, and so they shall.

All of this notwithstanding, the iPad is going to get student attention. And then immediately demand more of it. That’s a joke, for the most part. First impressions: minor frustration, resigned acceptance to the Apple business model, and tenacious curiosity.

Edit: Feeddler RSS is a perfect Googler Reader style app for free and without ads so far. Google docs is another story…