Tag Archives: student choice

Critical Thinking and Tech Tools: Let students choose

The other day my 13-year old daughter took a picture of a sunset and told me that she uploaded it to VSCO.  Are you thinking what i’m thinking? What is the heck is that?

I had never heard of the app, but a whole bunch of her friends are posting and sharing on it. VSCO has sharing and creating capability so would be considered a social media tool and its age is listed as 13+.  Unlike Instagram, it  doesn’t allow for comments, but you can follow people and add their photos to your own collections.  Most of the posts are ideal for people who are interested in art & photography as the editing and filtering is far superior to Instagram.  

Our ensuing conversation was enlightening (and much longer than the monosyllabic responses I’ve been getting lately–if you are parenting a teen, you know what I’m talking about!!). I asked her whether or not she used her real name or a username, whether or not she still had rights to her photos. The first question she had a ready answer for, the second she hadn’t considered so we looked at the Terms of Service together.  I also showed her the Creative Commons logos and we explored the idea of creating a watermark signature that she could put on her photos.  

If I hadn’t taken the time to talk to her about this app I’d never heard of, I would have wasted such an incredible learning opportunity for both of us!   And I wouldn’t have learned about a new tool that my daughter (and possibly other students) are using or interested in.

Here’s a link to more information about VSCO or ask a kid to show you!

Classroom Application

Being a typical teacher, I couldn’t help but think about how, why, or if I would ever use this in the classroom.  But more than that, I am thinking about how this conversation with my daughter speaks to the fact that we need to give our students opportunities to share their knowledge and participate in the learning process, especially when it comes to the technology tools they choose.

One of the barriers that teachers with whom I’ve worked face when it comes technology-enabled learning in the classroom is the fact that there are too many tools from which to choose which may or may not contribute to deep learning.  With over a million apps available, teachers sometimes find it overwhelming to integrate technology and thus abandon it altogether!  When they do integrate technology or social media, many teachers  find it best to use the one tool they know best.  I’ve done this as well; when I work with teachers, we always talk about what tool might be the best to serve a certain pedagogical purpose or curriculum expectation and sometimes I have showcased one over others; either because of time or ease.  And then WE make the choice at our professional development session which then gets brought back to the classroom.  Instead, why not engage in the same process with kids?

At the end of it all, when we focus on the learning goals, the tool we choose shouldn’t actually matter.  This thoughtful post by George Couros based on Ross Cooper’s musings brings home this point as well. 

Differentiation and Personalization

Sometimes in our zeal to incorporate interesting tools or social media in our classes for the purposes of student engagement, we revert back to a one-size fits all approach. For example, everyone needs to upload an image or images that reflect the theme in a story we explored together to Twitter OR Instagram OR Snapchat .   Some kids who don’t have that specific account have to create one for the purpose of the assignment.  And while I’m not saying this is a bad thing, as I strongly believe that integrating social media in the context of the classroom is a very effective way to help kids navigate online spaces,  I also wonder if we are making these decisions based on what choice is best for the teacher or the learner.  Yes, it’s more complicated to assess work when kids post to a variety of platforms, but then again when we talk in terms of differentiation, should everyone be handing in identical things–doesn’t this same thinking apply whether it is a pen/paper or electronic format?   

The example with my daughter reminded me of the fact that when kids are asked to make their own choices, they are also more engaged and practicing critical thinking; a skill our students very much need today according to a study from the World Economic Forum.   The reality is that some students might still require support and so a Choice board or a teacher-recommended platform is a really great place to start, but increasingly, students should be making their own choices based on tools with which they are familiar.  This will not only honour what they know, but may also help others who may be looking for ideas.  The most important benefit is that, when conferencing with students about their choices,  we can bring in important questions about the tools they’ve chosen. help them to determine whether or not they are using the tool in the most ethical and responsible way and whether or not they have made the right choice.

Not ready for that?  Simply share the learning goal(s) with kids (the what and why) and have them come up with one (or two) choices which may be most effective and then alternate over the course of the year.  You can even have the class use Dotstorming to include everyone’s voice in the decision-making.

Donna Fry asks similar questions about student choice in her post, Are All Kids Able to Choose.

What about Assessment?

This is a question I am often asked.  How can I assess a product if everyone is using something different?  The teacher needs to know the why and the what (Curriculum Expectations), but how kids get there, can be flexible.  Assessment should not (at least in Ontario) be based on anything other than an assessment of how students have met the standard.  Have we ever traditionally evaluated students’ ability to glue picture onto a bristol board or their colouring abilities for a graph or poster?   A conversation about font choices, focal point, etc…provides excellent teacher or peer feedback especially if it takes away from the students’ ability to demonstrate their knowledge effectively, but unless the standard or curriculum expectation you are evaluating involves the creation of a media product, that should not count towards a mark.  When I see “demonstrates an understanding of” as a Curriculum expectation, this is where the tool they use to demonstrate it doesn’t matter–a critical understanding of the concept does.  As a result, as long as the teacher is comfortable accepting numerous different iterations on different platforms, this could be an excellent way to tap into the strengths and interests of students.

 RAFT + T: A modern update

In the classroom, I often used the RAFT template (Role, Audience, Format, Topic) to help students plan effectively for their writing I’m not quite sure where this originated.  In light of my conversations with my daughter and my extended thinking around this topic, I think that it’s time for an update. Firstly, where we traditionally talk about the audience as static, social media allows for kids to actually connect with the audience for whom they are writing–so I’ve asked kids to consider how they might share with their audience.  Secondly, there should an additional T added for Technology tool. The choice students make is integral to the way they can best demonstrate their understanding.  Thirdly, I’ve also added a reflection section as we can’t ignore the research around metacognition; it is necessary for students to reflect on their choices at the end to determine whether or not they made the best choices.

RAFTT (4)

Copy of template  (Google docs) for student use.  Copy of image here.

What are your thoughts on this topic?  Would this graphic organizer be useful to you?  What would you change?