About 600 years ago, Johannes Gutenberg created what became known as the Gutenberg printing press allowing for the written word to spread ideas to those who could read as well as help the illiterate by providing texts for practice.
The printing presses in Europe and Asia were revolutionary because they facilitated the circulation of ideas by producing, quite efficiently at the time, large quantities of paper copies.
The printing press is a contrast to a student printing out a solitary piece of paper for an assignment at school. The students’ ideas don’t spread very far.
In an earlier blog post, I wrote about how students in intermediate classes at BICS were using their Student Dashboards and that one useful feature of these dashboards was the opportunity for students to blog. In this post, I will share how, to make the most of this new feature, Ms. Layzell, Ms. DeReus and I sat down to plan a persuasive paragraph writing unit, one that allowed for the spread of ideas. Our goal was for students to understand that:
The writing process can shape the opinion of the author and his/her audience;
A fact can be proven whereas someone must be convinced of an opinion;
Persuasion is a call to action or a challenge to change the audience’s thought/emotions.
At this point, you might be wondering if these goals could be met without the use of technology and Student Dashboards and I would argue that they could; but not as effectively. The Dashboards aided us as teachers and our students in two ways.
First, the teachers involved were able to create our own blog posts that gave information about various topics that students could choose to write about. Students could visit Ms. DeReus’s blog and read about Attawapiskat, or Ms. Layzell’s blog about the Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline or my blog about screen time. All students at BICS using dashboards have access to any teacher’s blog, therefore when team teaching, it is easy to give students choice as to what they wish to research, students simply need to visit various teachers’ sites to see a variety of options. Modelled after blog posts from our District’s Digital Literacy Support Teacher, each of our blog posts provided videos, links to credible websites for students to research, and an outline of the writing process including links to graphic organizers. The teacher blog posts were therefore jumping off points for students to do research and were a far more engaging, interactive and useful method of presenting a writing assignment than a piece of paper which doesn’t take the student very far.
Once students had done their research for their persuasive paragraph, either on one of the teacher options described above or on one of their own topics, the Student Dashboards provided a second benefit: Students were able to publish their work. What good is a persuasive paragraph if there is no one to persuade? The Dashboards provide students with an audience, and like copies made from the Guttenberg press, students’ ideas were able to travel a lot farther than one piece of paper dropped into the teacher’s marking tray.
In addition to the benefit of writing for an audience, students have the benefit of being that audience. They can learn about what their classmates have written, and they can share how their classmates writing made them feel or what connections they made during their reading. The network created from students blogging reinforces an important lesson for students: that learning is a collaborative process and that ideas spread to form new ideas.
Good ideas need to spread and we all search, in our personal and professional lives, for efficient and meaningful networks to facilitate this. With Dashboards, students gain a greater sense of what their classmates are writing about, and they create another space for something all people need, to be listened to.