By Elena Zapico
“If students are given an authentic audience, they work harder as a group than they work for their teacher alone. Creating authentic audiences for students is one of the emerging skills for teachers”
Some weeks ago I was at a parent-teacher conference with one of my students; under the spirit of a student-led experience, the mom asked her daughter to explain how she was learning vocabulary and grammar in the Spanish I class. “We learn by using the language right away”, she said, “for example we do this thing, called See, Think, Wonder where we write our own ideas using the language that we know or just saw in the lesson”. I smiled, of course, outside and inside, thinking that the feeling of ownership brought by the Visible Thinking routines is what is changing how my students relate to their learning process in all my classes; and how, finally, neither the students nor I have the feeling of a correction-driven practice masked under every activity or project that takes place.
This little anecdote also reflects something just as important: the powerful impact of the routines in transforming the vertical relationship between the students and their teachers, switching the center of attention from the expected repetition of the taught content to what the students are able to naturally produce. Maybe because of this spontaneity associated to the routines, talking with my student and her mom about See, Think, Wonder felt like one of those conversations that bring people together at an event or around a coffee table. This kind of interaction, only possible when all individuals feel their participation at the same level of importance, is what I have been observing since I started using Visible Thinking routines, not only during class time but also through the social learning platform Edmodo.
The friendly Facebook-like educational tool has proven to provide an array of opportunities to establish a culture of thinking that dissolves classroom walls and enters the flexible space of digital social environments. Routines are now experienced by my students as purposeful homework assignments, vehicles to share and comment upon reflections, and occasions for voluntary participation. Here are a couple of examples:
One of my first experiences using Edmodo to attempt a more natural and contextualized language production was also a risky one: following several class sessions where we read and discussed the economical implications of stereotypes, I posted an hour long documentary on a related topic for my Spanish B students to watch and then complete the routine Connect, Extend, Challenge. The documentary had just been released on the National Spanish Television Channel and I had watched it by chance while having dinner the night before (one of those beautiful moments that makes a teacher´s heart jump with joy). I wanted to translate that excitement to my students –“Wow, you guys, look what they were talking about on TV yesterday!”- Really? Would they get how huge, incredible, and perfect a coincidence this was? I had to try.
Even though I granted a week for the task, I was extremely worried about the length and difficulty of the video, which could defeat the purpose of an activity meant not as work to do at home, but as an experience that erased the limits between school and real life interests. Fortunately, my fears soon dissipated as the students started not only to submit great reflections but also to bring further connections into the classroom, motivating those who had not done the activity yet. Connect, Extend, Challenge has become a usual routine in our Edmodo; frequently, it has led to active interaction between the students, who write comments to each other´s thoughts and reflections extending and challenging this wonderful connection between “in class” and “out there”.
A very different yet equally satisfactory practice has been the use of the routines as opportunities for casual participation beyond the classroom. Having trouble motivating my Spanish 3 students to give opinions and develop ideas without worrying about their grammar, I started posting See, Think, Wonder routines in our Edmodo. The participation was initially shy, picking up to half of the class on the second time. Soon the whole group was curious to know what the buzz was about: “Are we still on time to do it?” “Sure, you do it just if you want…” Almost all took the chance. A further idea will be to get the students to post their own routines to provoke their classmates´ participation, a practice that we have been doing in the classroom and that will surely acquire new dimensions through online interaction.
As the students familiarize themselves more and more with the routines, new settings for their use continue emerging. Edmodo provides a versatile and safe space for this growth while offering the beauty of social networking: the chance to explore the impact of our thoughts as we channel our emotions and creativity towards a global audience.
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