Getting back on track

It’s Sunday. A day of reflection and looking forward – sure, it’s that. But it’s also time to get my butt in gear because I spent yesterday doing home and family things.

Today is getting back to work.

So I’ve been reflecting. I feel bad that the last couple weeks haven’t been as productive in my classes as I would have liked, and it’s easy to blame never having enough time. I’ve had a medium case of “meh,” and it’s time to get over it.

Particularly in my mind is the fact that my digital communications class isn’t going the direction I wanted it to. Today’s Twitter #sunchat was about learning from mistakes. Teachers talked about modeling for their students how to learn from mistakes, admit when something wasn’t going as well as they’d like, even tossing a plan and starting over. I feel I need to back up and clarify a few things for my students to get the learning in that class heading the right way again.

I knew I was onto something when I re-read a couple chapters of “Crafting Digital Writing” by Troy Hicks, and experienced an “aha” moment.

Here’s the deal: Digital Communications is a COMMUNICATIONS class. And it’s lost its way. I teach a lesson and give an assignment to be completed during that week. Students, by and large, tend to simply address the minimum requirements of the assignment. It’s a laid-back class, and I am not holding them accountable for developing their communications skills. They post their responses to assignments on their blogs, but I am not seeing the kind of development I would like to see. Whose fault is this?

As I reflect, I realize that originally I required that they draft in Google Docs and share with me so that I could provide narrative feedback to help them improve. They did this at first, but began somewhere along the way to simply post their responses directly to the blog. I will not critique their assignments where they will be shared by a world-wide audience. I reminded them a few times that they were supposed to draft in Google and share first, but they still mostly did not. I gave up. I settled for providing occasional short narrative feedback via verbal comment or sticky note. This is not adequate. I have to address this, either by going back and making them understand why we need to draft in Google, or by coming up with another platform for providing the narrative feedback about what they have posted to the blog.

I have also decided that this week’s lesson needs to be re-enforcing the differences between basic written work like they do in other classes and the digitally enhanced written work they should be trying to accomplish in my class.

If an English or history teacher is asking for an essay on a topic within the scope of a particular lesson and expects planning, some research, organization, good writing with well developed ideas, good sentence structure and word choice, proper usage and punctuation, then I certainly expect the same. However, I want them to explore possibilities granted by the digital world: links to more information (definitions, articles, biography pages, books), images, video, info-graphics and other things I’ve shown them or that they’ve gone out and discovered for themselves.

What I’m often getting is straight-forward answers to questions I’ve posed, with no “writing”, little research, very few links, unless I’ve specifically asked for them.

If they do not understand what it is that I’m wanting from them, it’s on me, and it’s time to make that clear. If my instructions are not clear, I need for them to let me know that. Although, each week, I provide written instructions, often with images and links and videos (I’m modeling what I want them to do), on the class blog, and I provide verbal instructions as well.

Ironically, this message was relayed to me by one of those students when she shared the following video on Facebook this afternoon (Thanks, Kenz.)

My goal this week is to make things more clear for them and to allow them an opportunity to let me know what they need from me. I will put this in the form of a written, digitally enhanced, assignment.

Wish us all luck and wisdom.

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About teachjournalism
I am a high school teacher of journalism, technology and reading. I advise the school's newspaper and yearbook, both student-led publications. Documenting and sharing my experiences is a way of reflecting to improve my own work and and inviting commentary so that we might all benefit. I believe, as I tell my students each year, that we all learn from each other.

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