It’s been quite a while since my last post, partly due to accompanying a school trip to Peru over the summer, but also partly due to the final year of my MA starting with a vengeance, so I haven’t really had a moment either to think of something worth writing about, or indeed to write about it anyway. However, after the last couple of lessons with my Year 12 A Level Language class, I think I now have something interesting to share.
I have found the blogs and wikis are an excellent way to showcase student work, enable peer-assessment and collaboration, and also to promote digital literacy. I had found KidBlog to be an excellent example and it was free until about 6 months ago, when, to my horror, it started insisting on a paid subscription if you wanted to do anything more than look at your previous posts. This was a huge shame as classes the whole way up the school had produced some lovely work and helpful revision resources for each other. I find that Wikispaces Classroom is pretty good and quite secure, if not very pretty, but I wanted something that the girls could take greater ownership of. Much put out, I sought the guidance of the fantastic José Picardo who suggested that I pilot the use of WordPress sites, such as this (!), for girls as an ‘English’ portfolio. The school has been using a WordPress site as an alternative to a VLE for about 18 months now, and teachers in my department and students have responded very well. I was encouraged by this and José, doing a bit of technical wizardry, set up the sites for my 6 Language students.
The sites now look great – very professional and each girl has personalised the site, arranged her menu and uploaded some of her recent written work and class presentations, as well as a reading list. I’ve been nagging the girls to do enough wider reading for quite some time now and where threats and homeworks have not worked in getting them engaged with the process of trawling through literature more academic than SparkNotes, technology seems to have won the day. The words ‘This is so cool!’ and even ‘I’m going to put this on my UCAS!’ we’re heard – a definite victory for those who believe technology enhances learning.
However, this process has not been without its issues along the way, and the girls were definitely not as excited about the process as I was at the start. So below are a few problems that I encountered, and hopefully some useful solutions if you are considering embarking on this!
- How we present the resources to students is key
This generation is consistently hailed as confident and computer literate, and the dominant narrative is that we, fusty and old-fashioned grown-ups, should be dealing with our prehistoric attitudes to technology, and sharpish. However, my impression is that although these students are expert navigators of the ocean of social media options, avid watchers of who knows what on Netflix, and no longer need to read a map because of Google Maps/Citymapper and the like (by the way, I’m guilty as charged), they aren’t actually that confident or excited by using technology in their lessons. I had couched my introduction to Wikispaces/KidBlog and so on in terms relating to checking up on the girls’ wider reading more than as a space for them to take ownership of, and the fact that the girls did not have their own ‘space’ as a learner meant that they saw these sites as little more than an admin job. Cue less than exuberant usage of the digital resources that had been set up. When they saw the websites as a portfolio, something personal and something to impress potential admissions tutors with, their interest and excitement was almost palpably stronger. They have so far seemed considerably more proactive in organising their online selves as a result.
- The students aren’t as technically savvy as we give them credit for!
One thing that really struck me was that the girls found it very difficult to get to grips with the website and how it worked independently. Although they had had a lesson to set up their spaces, after which I had assumed they could continue on their own, their attempts were unsuccessful at best, or at worst did not occur at all. This may have been tied to their failure to see the value of the sites as more than just admin, and my failure in presenting the sites in a sufficiently enticing way (see point 1), but I had assumed that, with a little bit of trial and error, they would sort of self-teach how to use WordPress, as I had had to when I started up this blog. The best way to achieve this was to model it with one of the girls’ own sites – she logged in for me and, with the class watching, I demonstrated how to create menus, posts and pages and to upload files. To give them all due credit, they got to grips with it very quickly but did need a significant amount of hand-holding at the start.
- This will take an investment of time
So far, the girls have had three whole hours of lesson time dedicated to getting their sites up and running, and I anticipate them needing me to book computer rooms sporadically so that I can keep an eagle eye on how well they are getting on with it all. Year 12 in the new AS is fortunately quite flexible in terms of course structure, and for those schools doing the Linear A Level, this will be even easier. For now, however, it is worth being fully aware of the constraints on time in the curriculum and plan ahead to allow for it.
One last caveat: as with any online presence, safeguarding and content is of paramount importance. I know that José, when he set them up, talked to the girls about this and I will be monitoring their content and helping them stay safe online, just as they would on Facebook or Instagram. In terms of other content, their essays, creative writing, presentation documents, reading logs and so on are up there and I think they are very much enjoying having something to show the world. Watch this space…