Below is a copy of a speech that I wrote for a keynote (my first ever, finally a woman and a teacher gets be a keynote … sorta) on edmodo and the Quality Teaching Framework. It is similar in style to how I write blogs, but of course it is a speech, so there is a bit more rhetoric ;)
In the early months of 2009, there were rumblings in my school about technology … it was coming, there was nothing we could do to stop it, so we better be prepared. Yup, Kevin ’07 was delivering his promise to provide every student in Australia with their own computer – it was to be a digital education revolution. My school, like all of your schools probably, knew that we needed to be prepared for this momentous change to education. So we did what all schools do in times of change, we set up committees. I remember distinctly my head teacher telling me to choose the policy team. He knew that this role would involve a few painful, tedious and frustrating meetings nutting out the school’s policy for using the laptops, and then the job would be over. I remember him distinctly telling me to avoid the teaching and learning committee – he knew very well that the job of that group would never be complete. Always being a little rebellious at heart, I opted to ignore his advice and put my hand up to join the DER teaching and learning team. And you know what? He was completely right. Whilst the ‘team’ is now just ‘me’, the job is far from complete. In fact, it never will be because learning is forever, right? I know that sounds corny, but I truly believe it to be true.
So the revolution hit and whilst we thought we teachers would be washed away by the tidal wave of technology, we weren’t. We’re still here. Well, maybe we lost a few but I’m confident they were the 55 year olds who had the old Super, those bastards. But let’s get back on track, shall we? One of the first missions I set myself was to find a better way than email to share resources with students. How innovative am I? The truth is, however, that was our priority. In 2009, I had been teaching English at the same school for four years. I liked my students, but I was bored. They weren’t bored – not most of the time because I like to crack jokes and muck around … I’m a bit of a clown around teenagers, you see. Mostly I spent time making pretty worksheets and getting students to fill them in and glue them in their books. DER and the Lenovos meant that my pretty worksheets could be completed digitally … I just needed a way to get the worksheet to the students. Originally DER consultants suggested a range of strategies – USB, Bluetooth, email and worst of all, Moodle.
I’m just going to take a moment here to warn those moodlers out there that I am not a moodle fan. Why? Because I went through four days of moodle training and all I got was a headache and a massive textbook of instructions. As an English teacher, I simply wasn’t interested in learning how to do basic html coding to make my moodle site look pretty. I wanted something simple and practical. I wanted something teachers could manage themselves without relying on the ‘IT guy’. So moodle, sadly, just didn’t cut the mustard.
Luckily I am a nerd and opted to participate in a MacICT video conference looking at Web 2.0 tools. Ah, Web 2.0 tools. That phrase is almost quaint to me now … so many memories of 2009. But seriously, during the VC the presenter mentioned edmodo, I went home and checked it out and the rest is history. I like history, so I’m going to give you a quick history of edmodo and me. I promise I’ll get to the topic of this talk at some point in the next 50 minutes. When I first started using edmodo in 2009 there were less than 500,000 users. There were no quizzes, no communities, no folders, no connections feature and no badges. Mostly we had the post, alert and file upload option. Back then, that was all we needed … simpler times, hey? After my first few months of using edmodo, I became a bit of a fangrrrl. I was their number one champion in Australia. I tweeted about it, I blogged about it, I presented about it. I even had the CEO ring me up at home to talk about what I saw in edmodo’s future – what a trip for a young teacher! After the first year I had helped shape edmodo to be something a little bit different … instead of simply being a virtual classroom, it became a professional network for teachers. And, to be honest, it kinda became a big part of my life. As edmodo evolved through the input of thousands of teachers just like me, it became a very big part of my classroom. I feel like I’ve grown up with edmodo – they now have over 10 million users worldwide – which is all kinds of crazy. It’s true to say that because of edmodo, I have grown as a person and as an educator.
That’s a really odd statement to make about an online tool, isn’t it? Earlier this year when I was trying to figure out why edmodo is so central to my practice, I realized that it ticks the boxes of all of the elements of Quality Teaching. Did I see a few people sit up a bit straighter then? Wipe the snoozy sand out of their eyes? Yes! You’re right – I am finally getting to my topic! I told you I’d get there … it’s just that I’m an English teacher and I love narratives. Storytelling is a massive part of my teaching style. So I must warn you – there are more stories to come. If you were after a PPT slideshow and a ‘how to guide’ for edmodo, you probably should sneak out now and see if you can scab a left-over muffin from morning tea.
As I’m sure you all know, the quality teaching model has three core dimensions – intellectual quality, quality learning environment and significance – and under each dimension is a series of elements. What I aim to do in the remainder of this talk is to share with you stories about how each of these quality teaching elements can be met using edmodo. You heard right folks – EVERY element … don’t say I didn’t warn you, OK? Feel free to run to the coffee … I won’t be offended, I promise! Oh, wait … before you run off I think you should stay for the next 5 minutes and 30 seconds. I have a video of my students I want you to watch. They are very sweet kids. I had planned to bring them with me today but my executive said the couldn’t come. They have their end of year exams and being in Year 10, those exams as seen as important. I won’t share with you my feelings on the matter – I’ve had complaints about my swearing at previous talks I’ve given, so I’ll spare you.
(WATCH VIDEO – 6 mins approx)
The first dimension I’m going to cover is intellectual quality … doesn’t it sound fun? This dimension has six elements, all pretty important ones because if you don’t meet them in your teaching, you’re pretty much wasting your students’ time. For real.
The knowledge being addressed is focused on a small number of key concepts and ideas within topics, subjects or KLAs, and on the relationships between and among concepts. In layman’s terms, this means don’t try to cover too much content in too short a time period. It’s a no-brainer, but somehow we manage to forget it in the rush of things. Keeping focused for students is done best when they’re organised. Edmodo has a folders feature where the teacher can add a range of rich, engaging and useful resources for students to use relating to a specific topic. I like to create just two folders per project/unit of work in which we house all of the important resources students will need. Using your key concepts as the names of your folders helps to keep your students focused on what is central to their learning.
Students demonstrate a profound and meaningful understanding of central ideas and the relationships between and among those central ideas. One of my favourite edmodo activities is the backchannel. It’s kinda stolen from an idea of Darcy Moore and mashed up with the idea of a twitter backchannel during a conference or presentation. Basically you give your students a text to engage with – like a film being viewed or a book or article being read aloud – and you have them make notes and ask thinking questions via edmodo. In edmodo posts come up in real-time, so students can interact whilst the viewing/listening is taking place. Trust me, kids are great at this – they’re all over multitasking. I often set a series of initial posts for students, with simple words as headings for their posts – like ‘characters’, ‘music’ or ‘challenging ideas’. Under these posts students add their replies – like I said before, usually these are observations made during the viewing/listening. Later students spend time reading through the posts and responding to ideas of their peers that they find fascinating or troubling. Stealing another idea from Mr Moore, I like to have students participate in silent discussions – using edmodo for the discussion platform enables more students to have a voice and for them to demonstrate their understanding of the ideas being discussed.
Students are encouraged to address multiple perspectives and/or solutions and to recognise that knowledge has been constructed and therefore is open to question. Being an English teacher, this is one of my favourite elements of quality teaching. I don’t think it happens enough in most classrooms – students seriously need to spent time debating, considering contrary views to their own and questioning the ideas of the teacher. Often students are very uncomfortable doing these things in the traditional classroom environment … they have been conditioned to accept that the teacher is right, or if she is not, then you can’t actually say so in class. A really creative way of engaging students in this type of learning behaviour is to create character accounts in edmodo. The character can be an historical figure, an imaginary mad mathematician or a fictional character from a text being studied in class. The role of the character is to ask challenging questions of the students, and for the students to ask challenging questions of the character. This frees students from feeling as though they may be ridiculed for their interpretation of events, and allows them to express themselves more fully.
Students are regularly engaged in thinking that requires them to organise, reorganise, apply, analyse, synthesise and evaluate knowledge and information. I wonder if this is an element of quality teaching that is met often … clearly it links well with our beloved Blooms Taxonomy, but can it seriously be covered by students working on questions on a worksheet with information sourced from the web? Probably not. I’m a big fan of project-based learning and therefore have my students working in small groups quite a bit. Edmodo has a small group feature where students can communicate freely just to the members of their group. I love being able to see my students move through the stages of a project via the comments and posts they make in their small groups. That early stage of confusion and frustration through to those glorious moments of insight and the euphoria of bringing their learning together in some tangible form. These moments of visible learning are actually priceless for a quality teacher.
Lessons explicitly name and analyse knowledge as a specialist language (metalanguage), and provide frequent commentary on language use and the various contexts of differing language uses. Just like with other online learning environments, edmodo provides its users with a quiz feature. Quizzes can be multiple choice, short answer or fill in the blank and they are super easy to make. I love using these for formative assessment stuff – a bit of pre and post testing to check understanding once a week or a key points in a project. Nearly always I’m using it to check understanding of metalanguage – we use a lot of it in English … metaphors, simile, juxtaposition. Quizzes in edmodo are also cool because you can resend them again and again – that means mastery learning is crazy easy to facilitate for your students.
Students are regularly engaged in sustained conversations about the concepts and ideas they are encountering. These conversations can be manifest in oral, written or artistic forms. Edmodo really is just one big sustained conversation … that’s what kids love about it. You heard my students on the video – they love being in contact with each other and with their teachers. Believe it or not, students actually LOVE to learn … it’s just our boring, crap way of teaching that makes them think they hate learning, haha. I’m often asked by teachers first using edmodo, how do I generate discussion? My answer is always Monty Python and YouTube. Jump on to YouTube, type in Monty Python and watch any video that comes up then tell me you’re not laughing. Sharing funny, quirky, interesting short videos in edmodo via the embed feature always results in a discussion amongst your students. This can be a class activity – post a video with a couple of discussion questions and tell students to reply below. It’s always worked for me. If Monty Python fails, try a Minecraft parody video … it really brings the cool kids out of the woodwork.
I can’t decide if the next dimension of quality teaching is my favourite one … I think it is but really they are all so good. Don’t roll your eyes; I’m being serious, haha. Having a quality learning environment really has been shown to have a significant impact on learning. In regards to technology, if you’re just pointing students to a series of random websites to ‘research’ content, then you’re not using technology to foster a quality learning environment.
Explicit quality criteria
Students are provided with explicit criteria for the quality of work they are to produce and those criteria are a regular reference point for the development and assessment of student work. The assignments feature in edmodo has been thoughtfully designed. You can add a title to the assignment, add a written description, add links, videos, documents and interactive embeds like games, flashcards or slideshows. I use assignments for class-work, homework and for major projects. Once students submit their work you can use the annotate feature and give feedback, then students can resubmit their work once it has been revised. There is a feature where you can track student progress in the form of grades and badges that reflect successful completion of tasks. My favourite thing to do is create criteria with students in class and then post this to edmodo as the criteria they should use whilst completing a task. It helps them understand the skills and content they need to master.
Most students, most of the time, are seriously engaged in the lesson or assessment activity, rather than going through the motions. Students display sustained interest and attention. Engagement and edmodo is a no brainer. There are heaps of ways that edmodo can be used creatively to engage students in their learning. I already mentioned the use of characters as a way of creating interest in question asking and answering. A few fun features of edmodo that students really like are the badges, playing embedded flash games and connecting with students from around the world. I’ll touch more on that in a minute.
High expectations of all students are communicated, and conceptual risk taking is encouraged and rewarded. The fact that edmodo is primarily an synchronous platform – meaning that the communication and interaction happens in real time – means that the teacher and students can be involved in a highly effective feedback loop. Basically a system of feedback and feedforward can occur 24/7. Peer assessment is beautiful in edmodo – the teacher often needs to establish guidelines for the form that peer-assessment will take, but often this type of feedback will occur naturally with peers encouraging one another via replies and comments. I have had great success with the star/star/wish feedback protocol, where students post their draft work or completed work to edmodo and their peers add a reply with two things they loved (stars) and one thing they think needs improving (a wish). Edmodo makes this feedback loop continuous and easy.
There is strong positive support for learning and mutual respect among teachers and students and others assisting students’ learning. The classroom is free of negative personal comment or put-downs. It is a teacher’s responsibility to establish really clear expectations for behaviour within the face to face and online learning spaces. This is best done by negotiating expectations with students. I really like to use the Habits of Mind for this. I am also an advocate for a class-created edmodo policy or user-agreement which students and their parents sign before using edmodo. In my experience – and from the comments you saw from my students – edmodo is a supportive, collaborative environment free from the sort of ugliness that often can accompany social media. Students know that in edmodo there is no private messaging and that everything is visible to the teacher – edmodo really is like social networking with training wheels … and don’t our kids need that?
Students demonstrate autonomy and initiative so that minimal attention to the disciplining and regulation of student behaviour is required. The cool thing about edmodo is that it has evolved over time through the feedback of real working teachers. This means it has heaps of cool features that we’ve always wanted. The best features to support student autonomy are the calendar where all events, assignments and alerts are automatically embedded, the students back-pack that allows unlimited cloud storage therefore no more lost USBs or forgotten assignments! So often the bahviour that we deem disruptive is the result of disorganization and I truly think edmodo goes some ways to solve some of this for students.
Students exercise some direction over the selection of activities related to their learning and the means and manner by which these activities will be done. I like to use the polls feature to give students a choice in their learning. Polls are super easy to use and the kids love them. Before class starts (or even the day before) you can put up a poll asking students what activities or texts or whatever they would like to engage with in the next lesson. This might mean a bit of adjustment to what you had planned, but who cares? We live in a democracy, right? Another way of giving students a bit more direction over their learning is to post a range of different activities for them to select from … you can embed games, videos, quizzes, links to websites, all sorts of documents. I like to post those cool Blooms/Gardener matrixes to edmodo and have students select an activity from each column.
Ah, significance. We’re nearly there – at the end of this enormously long and boring talk! What is the point of all this learning, Miss? Why do I need to know this? Will this be on the test? We’ve all heard these questions buzzing in our ears and all we really want to do is slap the kid and say, ‘Just do it cos I told you too.’ But we know that both unethical and illegal. Mostly it’s unprofessional because it is our job to either make the significance of content and skills easily understood, or support our students in discovering their own reasons for its significance.
Lessons regularly and explicitly build from students’ background knowledge, in terms of prior school knowledge as well as other aspects of their personal lives. Prior knowledge testing is easy with polls and quizzes in edmodo – or even better, hold a class discussion in edmodo about the topic about to be studied to generate a clear picture of students’ background knowledge.
Lessons regularly incorporate the cultural knowledge of diverse social groupings (such as economic class, gender, ethnicity, race, sexuality, disability, language and religion). In the video one of my students referred to connecting with students from San Francisco via edmodo. This took place as part of our study of The Catcher in the Rye. I posted to the Language Arts teacher community in edmodo that I was wanting to connect my class with students from the USA – to give them a perspective of American culture. Now as a DEC teacher there are a lot of road-blocks that I often hit – one of those is Skype. I know it’s possible to Skype in a DEC school, but it’s never managed to work for me. Another constraint to connecting in real time is time difference. The solution we had was filming 3 minute videos responding to questions about each other’s culture and then posting these to edmodo. Under every video our students posted comments … we had a shared edmodo group for the project. It was heaps of fun and our students learnt a lot – well, maybe my students are still to remember that the Latino students from the Bay area are not, in fact, Mexicans.
Lessons regularly demonstrate links between and within subjects and key learning areas. There is great potential for edmodo to be the hub for cross-KLA projects. I haven’t been successful with this in my school yet, but I have plans to get it going soon. The premise is having students in different classes (like Year 10 English and Year 7 multimedia) working together on the one project – like creating a film – and they communicate via a shared edmodo group. Would be so awesome.
Lessons include and publicly value the participation of all students across the social and cultural backgrounds represented in the classroom. As you saw in the video, not all students love technology, but all students can use edmodo – it’s so easy. I like that edmodo is not image centred, it is text centred and therefore the pressure to ‘look’ a certain way really isn’t there. My experience is that students are very welcoming, accepting and supportive within edmodo – it becomes a place where everyone has a voice. That’s pretty cool.
Lesson activities rely on the application of school knowledge in real-life contexts or problems, and provide opportunities for students to share their work with audiences beyond the classroom and school. Right now my Year 10 class are working on their English Composition Project. I’ve made finding and communicating with a mentor throughout the project a requirement. Currently I have 15 superstar educators mentoring my students via the small group feature in edmodo. It is amazing to observe the dialogue between my students and this brilliant, generous people. The edmodo teacher community is huge, I urge you to connect via teacher community groups. Take a risk and invite teachers from somewhere exotic into your virtual classroom – one of my students has a Columbian mentor who is a 5th grade teacher in Texas. That is just awesome.
Lessons employ narrative accounts as either (or both) a process or content of lessons to enrich student understanding. Two of my students referred to a ‘game’ that we played via edmodo that involved death and alliances. Basically with the help of my friend Dean Groom, I used edmodo groups to create a fictional world for my students to ‘play’ in … they literally became tributes in the Hunger Games and immersed themselves in this imaginative world almost constantly for two weeks. Narrative is powerful for learning … don’t discount it even if you’re not an English teacher.