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In the Age of Accountability, teachers often find it difficult to document student learning and understanding. Even more difficult, is to document student learning and understanding that meets state and national standards, promotes workplace readiness skills and integrates technology. But it doesn't have to be that difficult. Better yet, it can be quite simple.
A colleague of mine, Kyle Pearce, recently shared an innovative idea that really resonated with me. This idea, was to use student blogging as a way to accurately and effectively document student learning in a way that was specifically tied to standards and learning objectives.
It Works Like This
A teacher identifies and communicates a learning goal with his or her students. In addition the teacher identifies and communicates a standardized "tag" that is directly aligned to the learning goal. For example, a learning goal in Language Arts might look like "LA.7.4" where "LA" identifies the subject, "7" identifies the grade level and "4" identifies the specific standard or learning objective. Then, the teacher allows each student to create a blog post that authentically demonstrates mastery of that learning goal using a variety of technology tools and digital media.
When the students are finished writing their blog post, they will "label" their blog post with the specific standardized "tag" that is aligned to the learning goal, such as "LA.7.4". Readers (including the teacher and other students) can see ALL of these tags as "labels" on the blog. What's more, the readers can visually see how many times each "tag" is used on the students' blog. Furthermore, when readers "click" on an individual "tag", all of the blog posts that are labeled with that "tag" will appear in a list.
The state of Virginia uses Standards of Learning (SOLs) to identify and communicate learning objectives and standards to educators. However, this concept can be applied to other state and national standards, such as Common Core standards.
There are many blogging tools that are out there, but the tool we will be using is Google Blogger. Blogger allows us to use our Google Apps for Education account to create blogs and easily share them with the people that are in our school district. Blogger is also easy to use, and easy to customize!
1. 21st Century Challenges in Education
I would argue that there are two very different challenges that face educators today in the 21st Century. These two challenges are:
- Prepare students for success on standardized tests.
- Prepare students for success in life.
The act of students blogging to create a backchannel to document their learning and understanding for specific learning objectives, is ONE way to overcome these challenges. This process not only documents evidence of student achievement, but it also documents learning opportunities for students to purposefully use technology to demonstrate their learning and understanding. Furthermore, blogging allows for students to use workplace readiness skills such as creativity, critical thinking, and communication.
2. Teacher Evaluations
In the Accountability Age, teachers are evaluated on several different categories. Two of these categories might include:
- Documenting and demonstrating student achievement on various assessments.
- Documenting and demonstrating the use of effective technology integration.
Encouraging students to blog in order to demonstrate their learning and understanding is a great way to meet both of these objectives.
A Win-Win Situation
Students benefit because they are learning critical digital literacy skills and they are also improving their reading and writing skills.
Teachers benefit from being able to document both student achievement and effective use of technology integration for teaching and learning.
1. Student Autonomy
By blogging, students have the opportunity to document their learning and understanding in many different ways. The blog simply acts as a container for lots of different digital artifacts that demonstrate learning and understanding. Here are some ways that students can document and demonstrate their learning in all content areas on their blog:
- Create a video
- Create a graphic organizer or other non-linguistic representation
- Draw a picture and upload a photo of the picture
- Write Creatively
- Write a poem, or short story
- Record a skit
- Make a Digital Story
- Create an Audio recording
2. Interdisciplinary Learning
Multiple SOL tags can be used on a single blog post from different subject areas. Thus creating and documenting more interdisciplinary assignments and lessons.
SOL tags can be used for arts integration, technology integration, and interdisciplinary assignments to document holistic learning opportunities. Other teachers could even notice that a student has multiple standards in many different subject areas on one blog post which documents holistic, interdisciplinary learning.
Furthermore, with every blog post, students are using technology to practice their writing skills and their communication skills. Students will naturally work toward mastering both Writing SOLs and Computer Technology SOLs with each and every blog post they write.
Students could even have a section on each blog post that is designated for reflection. Students could reflect on their work and write a few sentences about what they learned and what their struggles were.
4. Comments as Feedback
Teachers and students can comment on individual blog posts. This will allow for more opportunities to practice appropriate feedback, model digital citizenship, allow for multiple student perspectives and connections on blog posts and increase communication between students and teachers.
Students could also work in teams on assignments and cross post on each others' blog. This would allow each student in the group to document their learning and understanding on their own blog.
6. Continuous Learning
Students will be encouraged to revise their blog posts when they learn something new or when they make a meaningful connection to what they have learned. Blog posts can be updated indefinitely to reflect a student's knowledge and understanding of specific content matter.
7. Quality Work
Research suggests that when people have a broad audience, their quality of work tends to be much better. This same concept applies to students. Blogging gives students a much broader audience than just their teachers and classmates. Blogging allows the potential for anyone in the world to view their published work. Therefore, when students blog, they are intrinsically motivated to produce quality work.
Example for Application
As an example, I have labeled this blog post with the SOL strands in both Computer Technology and English Writing. The labels I have used are:
As a resource, I have created a Google Spreadsheet with all of the SOL Tags listed for each content area in grades 6-8. Teachers who use this spreadsheet will easily be able to identify the correct SOL Tag and communicate these SOL Tags to their students. This same concept can be applied to Common Core standards.
This is just one idea that can be implemented to solve some of the challenges that teachers face regarding documenting student learning and understanding in the Accountability Age. My hope is that this instructional strategy will help to promote digital literacy skills for our students, and help to empower students to take ownership of their learning by monitoring their progress of achieving learning goals. I also hope that this instructional strategy helps teachers not only be able to document student learning and understanding, but to be able to quickly and easily access this documentation.
For me, the "tag" idea seems to be my solution. Put simply, "Tag, You're It!"
Google Spreadsheet of SOL "Tags"
SOL Standards Google Drive Folder (All Subjects, Grades 6-8)
Writing SOLs and Computer Technology SOLs
Virginia Department of Education Standards of Learning
Common Core State Standards