Friday, August 17, 2012

Bringing the elections into the curriculum

My dad on July 4 by me
As a new school year approaches I'm wondering how other educators are going to incorporate the elections into the curriculum. For what it's worth, here are my thoughts so far.... Those who teach students who will be old enough to vote in the 2012 elections should check out the U.S. Election Assistance Commission's "A Voter's Guides to Federal Elections"; the National Conference on Citizenship is group whose mission is to increase the United States' civic health.

In my classes for the next few months we'll be looking at the rhetoric and spin of the political season. One of my favorite set of resources is Fact Check and its companion sites Fact Check Ed (devoted to teaching students how to become smart consumers of information) and the humorous Flack Check.

Nonpartisan sites to help students clarify their stance on the issues:

Partisan but worth a look

For research about new media and politics among youth, see the MacArthur Foundation's Youth and Participatory Politics and the Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE) from Tufts University. NoLabels is an organization devoted to getting our elected officials to work together instead of the partisan bickering and posturing we're witnessing currently. C-Span had an interesting panel discussion on Youth Civic Engagement through Social Media in May of 2011.

Finally, in my class this fall we'll be reading UnSpun: Finding Facts in a World of Disinformation, analyzing the style and rhetorical features of documents/speeches like the Declaration of Independence, the Gettysburg Address, JFK's Inaugural Speech, Letter from Birmingham Jail, Civil Disobedience, and a couple of things by George Orwell: 1984 and the essay "Politics and the English Language."

Relevant tweeters: @civicMIT @NoLabelsOrg @Politifact @ProCon_Org

I'm always looking for more good resources though....

Friday, August 10, 2012

One idea for writing from database research

Symmetry by Grace Haley
A colleague just asked me how I go about having my students do research with periodicals, journals, and databases. On a recent episode of Teachers Teaching Teachers in March 2012, Cable Green, Mary Lou Forward and some others encouraged me to open up my teaching, so in the spirit of the Open Education Resources movement, here's essentially what I wrote in the email. This assignment is a two-day sequence where students research and write an argumentaive essay after searching through two academic databases that are available through a lot public libraries or schools.

Steps to an argumentative essay based on your initial research of a controversial issue

1. For 15-20 minutes read through the Opposing Viewpoints database, read an article, and highlight the most important pieces of evidence.  Paste that into your Google Doc that you started on Friday, add the parenthetical reference, and copy the citation at the bottom of the article.

2. For the next 15-20 minutes read through the articles found in the EBSCO database, read an article, and highlight the most important pieces of evidence.  Paste that into your Google Doc that you started on Friday, add the parenthetical reference, and copy the APA citation found at the top of the article.

3. For the next 40 minutes, write a draft of an argumentative essay keeping in mind the structure diagram that you have in your notes.

  • Begin with a general statement, and then have a focused thesis in the first section
  • Have at least one concession/counter-concession. Remember that good argumentation often does this more than once
  • Order the evidence from weakest to strongest
  • Consider concluding with EITHER the difference the evidence made to your opening paragraph OR an “echo” of the opening idea, (aka completing the “frame”)

4. Be sure to include parenthetical references as in-text citations, and a separate references section using APA style.

N.B. This photo and all photos on this blog are taken either by my students or me.

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

What badges taught me ... so far

My first open badge
Mozilla's Open Badges project has implications for how K-12 classroom teachers like me think about our students' online compositions. In my pre-internet teaching days, for example, assessment was more of an individual thing – writers' were formatively and summatively evaluated on their own work. But now that students are composing in online spaces like Youth Voices, composition is more social. With this in mind, I've read a number of instructive conversations that have sprung up after the announcement of the Badges for Lifelong Learning Competition winners.

One of the biggest things I learned is that there are a lot of ways people are approaching badging systems, and Barry Joseph's document provides a helpful overview. If you're not up to speed on the whole badges movement, I recommend the Mozilla badges wiki. I should also note that many have cautioned that badges aren't for everyone and that there are other types of legitimate assessments that still need to be explored regarding participatory learning. That said, here's my first take on how reading about badges has helped my thinking about my students' online compositions.

1. Badges can help distribute assessment. Sure, I'm a classroom teacher, and I still have to assign grades at the end of the course. However I shouldn't be the sole issuer of badges. One of the things that underpins a lot of the badges movement is that some assessment should be done by peers, and this seems especially appropriate in online communites. Cathy Davidson expresses her enthusiasm for "peer-driven systems as an alternative to some of the rigid, limited, standardized forms of evaluation." Henry Jenkins is "deeply skeptical" of the massive push for badges going on right now because, among other things, "many young people have deep ambivalences about the kinds of 'credit' adults choose to give (or withhold) around their activities." Still, I can't help thinking that with some peer-driven systems, we could see, as Dan Hickey describes,"self-evident examples of learning ecosystems that have been fundamentally transformed or entirely created by digital badges." My challenge: handing over some of the assessments to the peer community of students.

2. Badges can recognize individual and social achievements.  For example on the individual level I think there's something valuable when a student posts a discussion that is well-crafted and results in a meaningful conversation, even if it's only with one other person. But just as valuable is a discussion post that results in a robust conversation among many members of the community, even if the original post is not all that well crafted.  David Theo Goldberg writes that badges work "within contexts that socially support them and where their users are invested in their significance." Andrea Zellner says that badges "should be operationalized in a way that incentivizes social learning and community involvement." My challenge: finding the balance between recognizing individual contribution and significance to the community.

3. Badges can make learning objectives visible. John Martin comments that "many of the standards we follow are rather nebulous and abstract for learners, particularly in the younger levels. With badges we can track and reward achievement as a progression rather than having students wait until something big like a report card to identify how they are performing." Barry Joseph, who through Global Kids and other programs has implemented badges for a number of years now, feels that if we offer badges to learners we have to be clear about how to earn them. Barry writes, "Our learning objectives, previously invisible within our lesson plans, are now made visible, empowering the youth to hold us accountable." My challenge: being more explicit about the steps students can take to becoming more effective communicators.

My web navigator badge
Henry Jenkins warns us that if we decide to adopt badges we need to do so only if "it's the right thing for your group." So with Youth Voices in mind and as a way to address each of the challenges I laid out above, I have a few initial thoughts about experimenting with badges.

  1. Students could be involved in the distribution of assessment through something as simple as a "Like" feature for discussion posts and comments. But in addition to a simple "Like" or "Thumbs up" icon, I'd like to see an accompanying text box where the user gives a quick explanation as to why they like or don't like a post, comment, or reply. Archived, these rationales could be used for more reflective writing later on.... I also think judicious use of user stats could help distribute assessment too.
  2. Base some badges on roles like the curator and moderator roles in the Scratch community Mitchel Resnick writes about. I could see additional roles like mentor and editor working in the Youth Voices community.
  3. How can I make learning objectives more visible? (to illustrate I'll use something from Paul Allison's "Youth Voices Badges and Quests" document). One of the learning objectives I have for my students is that they become effective at collaborative argumentation, but how might I make this more visible to students? Example: here's some text from the Common Core about argumentative writing that speaks to this learning objective: "Engage in authentic conversations using valid reasoning and relevant and sufficient evidence" (second part of EA Writing 12.1). One way to do that is to "reply to other people's comments on a discussion that you started on Youth Voices or one that you commented on earlier." But even here, there are different ways to "level up." For example, a student might directly quote from another so that it's clear what they're commenting on; I think directly quoting another is important because oftentimes writers aren't sure what it is exactly in their discussion post that people are commenting on. However directly quoting another writer may or may not further the conversation. If I just agree with you by repeating what you wrote, there's not much more to say – end of conversation. But if I agree (or disagree) with you and provide new evidence to support my point of view, we are likely to enter into a robust conversation.

Thanks to +Sheryl Grant for sharing the reading list below with me to get me started: