20.7.07 Community Learning Activities (Thematic History)

I have been thinking this week about some of the things I want to use for in my first term in September to focus classroom and extended school activities.

On Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday this week I worked with my new class, a group of year 2 students looking forward to beginning their career in Key Stage 2. As a shared task, I introduced the group to for the first time through exploration of my own space, and I was interested to see, what they thought of the classroom environment, inviting them to help me write a to do list, using the interactive whiteboard. We set up a discussion board to do this, and children worked in talking twos to make suggestions and provide reminders for me about things I needed to do before we returned to school. It was interesting as an evaluation task, and a review of what they understand about what teachers do in preparation for a new term. The list they gave was pretty extensive, and ranged from my needing to get a dustpan and brush, to labelling lockers, from getting new coloured pencils, to setting up tool tables, and from setting up the ICT area, to taking down and preparing new display boards. Building on suggestions from the list, we developed a couple of table top activities. The students made their own locker and coat hook labels, learning key cards on which we can record weekly and termly learning targets and encouragement bubbles, speech bubbles where we recorded the "magic words" previous teachers had used to encourage us to try new things. These will be displayed and used as tokens to encourage group work involvement and discourage some of the more negative undertones associated with tale telling by looking for "good tales to tell." We also made Tudor Roses, and began asking theme based questions, recording them on leaves, to form part of our Tudor Learning Tree. So from our class shared to do list we have already achieved a great deal as a class, the children on arrival in class on the first day of term will already have some ownership of the learning space we are creating together.

Our topic area for next term is Life in Tudor Bristol, and as a focus for community activity, I have decided to use for a number of purposes.

As a place to share and work together on group challenges

Initially in the Online classroom and our classroom ICT area students, focused on skills development the students will set up their personal home pages around the community builders presented in my previous post, which will support class discussions on the Internet 3 Bees. Drawing from this, gallery pages will also be established to model the process of download and upload of images to the space, and the importance of captions and titles. I will also begin to introduce the idea of referencing here, and begin discussion of the importance of recognising other's work when we create our own. Our encouragement bubbles from above will be used to help with the leaving of stickies, which give encouraging messages to each other about what we have done so far. As you can see I am concerned in establishing this community to create actively links between work we are doing in class and that we are engaging in online. The think space is intended to become an extension of classroom based learning, over the course of the year.

Introducing Theme based work and challenges Online

It would be easy to see this type of tool as another vehicle for delivering homework, seeing it as a means of distributing online worksheets. I have already been concerned by some of the voices I have heard from colleagues which see VLEs as serving this purpose, a repository for teacher materials to which students have access, or an online hard drive where uploaded materials from home are accessible in class for use in class teaching, but the potential power of these tools lie in the creation of an online community, where activities similar to those used to encourage speaking and listening are utilised and adapted to enable students and teachers to interact with each other remotely. This remote voice has enormous potential for the learner, and for us as adults to change our perceptions of student engagement.

I have been working to achieve an MSc for the past few years alongside students from a global community who have come together in Bristol to engage with ICTs and their potential for Education and their implications in Society. Many of these colleagues have English as a second language, and the benefits of using a VLE to engage in discussion has been highlighted by the contributions they make to discussion forums in the VLE, compared to their comfort to speak in seminars. I have also come to reflect on how the cultural backgrounds, from which some of my colleagues originate, and how power positions may restrict their comfort to contribute orally to sessions. However within the VLE with it's asynchronous nature, these student colleagues have time to form their contributions, and the most exciting aspect for me of engaging in this environment has been hearing, sometimes for the first time, the voice of reluctant contributors, and seeing how engagement in the VLE has supported the raising of confidence to speak later in seminars.

In term one we will also begin to develop a series of Tudor Pages, which will be focused around classroom tasks, and begin to enable out of school extension. I have set up a temporary teacher user, HRH Henry VIII, and it is in this space I want to begin thinking about how we can engage the students em pathetically with a character from the past. Using process skills to engage with our topic. This teacher user will be shared with my partner teacher, and enable us to hold court online, at particular times and in between sessions to answer questions asynchronously, as in the hot seat children have been told that King Henry is a very busy man. We will also be able to share responsibility for monitoring the community while also allowing "hotseating" type activities around the life of the monarch. Adding the need to address him as your majesty, or beginning questions with reverence through statements such as "if it pleases your majesty.." will add a role play element, as we can choose whether or not to answer questions on his behalf, if students forget, and work with them to discuss why such salutations might have been important, or how they can alter questions in order to get a response.

In terms of questions about the ordinary lives of people in Tudor Times, we might also be able to have an advisor to the king answer these in a suitably biased way, or use Espresso to support this, raising the idea that the monarchy was absolute, and it was unlikely he would have had any real contact with ordinary folk. The Remote nature of the voice, and a signature from the king on responses to questions also removes the teacher from the conversation, as well as providing a shared resource to be used for classroom based literacy and history based activities. Removing the teacher from the conversation may also support the use of after school times, when either myself or my colleague, can supervise students in the online classroom, who do not have access to the Internet at home, while the other works on another machine in school role playing the king? The asynchronous nature also means that think could be included in ICT area activities in the classroom, with students logging on to work on their own pages, based on work developed in a range of cross curricular table top tasks, while leaving questions for King Henry to answer, that they can come back to review later or in ICT sessions.

What is exciting about this is having discussed and shared this with a couple of colleagues, they are beginning to see the potential activities such as this to support their themes, We have a suggestion about setting up a user who could be an evacuee or member of the home guard to support work around WWII, and perhaps having I K Brunel hotseat with students while they explore life in Victorian Bristol, or prepare to write autobiographies.

What do you think?

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