I recently posted to following in a school newsletter and it was well received by the school community in a time of much uncertainty. I have included it with this website on Christian Education as students and teachers are not immune from asking this Question. It refers to a devastating earthquake in Christchurch and 'prediction' of a more devastating earthquake in a couple of weeks which is unsettling many people in the community. Got to say, this afternoon I attended a funeral and could not help to think of the many people who have been killed by a 'Natural Disaster', but have entered heaven because of an 'Act of God'…
Recently I was doing some reading for a paper I completing and had one of those "AHA!" moments. It had to do with the processes of critiquing and criticising. Two concepts which I have probably fused together too many times. However, at this particular time, I had just spent two long evenings reading school reports before they were sent home. Most of the reports were fantastic but there were a couple which I felt uneasy about and this paper spelt it out for me, they read as criticisms of the student. I know this was not a deliberate act on behalf of the teachers who wrote the reports, but the focus was sadly wrong.
When I first started at Timaru Christian School we, as many Christian Schools, had a weekly memory verse. As teachers we would sit together and do our term planning and brainstorm a list of hopefully 10 verses which could be used as memory verses. Fantastic, over the course of eight years each student would have an arsenal 8 x 40, 320 verses which they had 'hidden in their heart'!
Hmmm...some very diligent students learnt the verse well could not only remember the verse on testing day but some even remembered the verse for longer, weeks, months.
HOWEVER, it became very obvious that the verses simply were not being retained long term AND there was little big picture planning for the verses we thought students really needed to know. Verses about sin and Salvation were rightly or wrongly not covered in many of our unit plans, yet were verses we all wanted the students to know. To cater for this I redeveloped the Scripture Memorisation program with three essential elements of success, repetition, levelling and big picture verses, ie verses we really wanted our students to 'take' with them.
Although the programme is very prescriptive the first and last are set aside for a memory verse which is topical, ie one that relates to the current terms unit of study. There are three different levels (stages) to the memory verses, Year 1-4 = Stage 1, Year 5/6 = Stage 2 and Year 7/8 = Stage 3.
In Stage 1 and 2 students memorise a set of 18 verses each semester. This repartition enhances long term leaning and application. In Stage 3 students learn passages of 8 to 12 verses.
Have a look see if you can adjust the verses to be meaningful to your school.
Doesn't eLearning cost a lot of money? Don't you have to be really tech-savvy?
In my opinion, one of the best places to start with eLearning at your school is to make use of the FREE suite of online software tools called Google Apps. Google Apps include Google Docs (an online office suite that includes a word processor, spreadsheet program, and presentation program), Google Sites (a website creation tool), Google Calendar (a great way to keep track of, or even schedule, homework assignments and school events), and GMail (Google's cool, online email service). You can further expand its educational usefulness by also making use of Google Talk (similar to MSN Messenger, Yahoo! Messenger, and Skype), and Blogspot (the popular free blog platform owned by Google) - all of theses services are offered FREE! I think the price is right . . .
The easiest way to try it out is to register for a free email account with Google. You immediately get access to Google Calendar, Google Docs, Google Sites, and Blogspot, and you can download Google Talk for free.
Why Google Apps?
Here is a video that explains the usefulness of Google Docs in education:
I like the fact that Google Apps is such a great collaboration tool. Our students today learn best when they are collaborating. One thing I have to say about online collaboration is that it takes some commitment to educate your students on the difference between collaboration and plagiarism. However this is a great lesson for our students, and the ability to collaborate is an important skill to have as they enter the marketplace.
How do I get this for my school?
If you like what you are seeing and your school owns a domain name, your IT manager can set Google Apps up for your school. Give them this link: http://www.google.com/apps/. What this means is that Google will host all of your school's email accounts for FREE (if you are an educational institution), and you get free access to the whole suite of Google software. You can decide whether students' online efforts are visible only inside your domain (like having these tools installed on an intranet), or visible to the public.
If you don't have an IT manager, or a domain name, or you run a homeschool, and you need some help to set this up, please email me by sending a message to bblomonline 'AT' gmail 'DOT' com (replace 'AT' with @ and 'DOT' with . and don't leave any spaces anywhere - this weird format holds spammers at bay).
So, are you ready to take some steps into eLearning? For His glory!
Ps. I don't get a cut from Google . . . I just think it is cool . . .
Isn't it so true that we often do not truly appreciate something as a teacher until the tables are turned and we become a learner? Over the past few years we as a school have had quite a focus on the quality of the feedback we give students. We have begun using rubrics, success criteria, WALTs and feedforward. For some of the teachers this has been not been as easy a task as we would have liked, but we are well on our way.
The importance of the whole feedforward debate has become very real to me recently. This year I decided to immerse myself into the world of post graduate studies and am now two thirds of the way through my second paper. The university which I have enrolled in has a handbook outlining all the criteria for which essays are graded on. In total there are five areas of Assessment Criteria including; relevance, coverage, critical thinking, creative thinking and presentation. Within each of the Assessment Criteria there are five levels of achievement; fail, pass, credit, distinction and high distinction. Each of the levels of achievement has two or three statements of clarification or objectives. All in all the college is VERY explicit in their expectations and success criteria for students.
As I sat down to write my first paper I was understandably a little nervous, it was the first assignment I had written in ten or more years and I was completely naive about the level needed for a masters level paper...although I did have the assessment criteria to comfort me AND the lecturer had taken his time to email me his interpretation of the assessment and exactly what he would be looking for while grading this assignment.
On the return of the paper to my surprise I had done relatively well and did even better than just passing, most definitely due to having a clear understanding of what the lecturer was looking for. HOWEVER, for me the most important part of the reporting back was the good amount of feedback on the areas I which had performed strongly in and the areas I needed to improve on...GREAT! As I began to write my second assignment I had the knowledge of exactly what the lecturer expected of me and the areas which I needed to be more careful in. On the return of the assignment thankfully I found I had improved on my previous grade! Feedforward works!
BUT...then came my second paper. Diligently I sat down to write my second with the comfort an email from my new lecturer to say "Sorry I haven't made contact with you earlier, details about me are in the college handbook, [Lecturer]." Eek, no interpretation of the assessment from his behalf and no idea if the guy had a sense of humour or anything to assist me in writing to him.
Needless to say I was concerned about the grade I would receive as I had little idea as to the lecturer's expectations but was looking forward to the return of my paper so I would gain a little insight to what he was looking for and have a much better understanding of the areas I needed to improve on for the second assignment. Wow, the excitement and anticipation of the return of the paper came crashing down with a generic comment thanking me for the paper however my bibliography was not correctly laid out! FEED ME!!! That was not the worst of it. The worst of it was that the grade he awarded me was not even a grade which the college defined in it's handbook!
I stewed on it for a week or two, not sure what to do and eventually decided that I needed to make contact with the lecturer and asked him for some further information on the areas I did well in (if any), the areas which I needed to improve on for a better grade next time and lastly to highlight the areas of incorrect styling in the bibliography. Unbelievably, the email he returned stated that actually the bibliography was the correct style but that most others completing the paper had not styled the bibliography correctly! What does that mean for me and my baffling grade?
There are times in life which we need to simply learn a lesson and move on! This whole, unpleasant and awkward situation has brought to light the absolute importance of the need for quality feedback/feedforward. Students in our care need direction on how to improve and recognition for areas they are doing well.
Before you sit down and write 'Well Done' in a student's book please consider the scenario above and FEED the STUDENT, it helps them grow!