The most important blog post It is on the most important blog. Yours. Seth Godin ‘The most important blog post’

Supporting our daughter at home with her learning this year was interesting. One of the challenges related to knowing where you stand and what is your roll. Early on, our daughter cared a lot, putting effort and detail into everything she did. However, as time has passed, this interest  turned to apathy. Although she looked forward to the daily online session, the rest was something of a chore.

One of the ideas the school introduced was the idea of a ‘passion project’. I found our daughter frustrated with the task of identifying deep interests and following through with them. Initially, she said she was focusing on ‘slime’. She discussed a whole range of tests she wanted to do, but it did not go anywhere with them (other than create a whole lot of slim). She then turned her attention to Minecraft. In part, I think that this was a justification for spending more time on her tablet doing things that she wanted to do.

Although I have no issue with Minecraft and have always encouraged her with this, my concern was with what she was actually doing and whether it fit the brief of her ‘passion project’. I therefore suggested that instead of having a clear outcome, she at least document her learning. She was still unconvinced. I then proposed that I would create her a blog where she could record a log of her thoughts. After explaining that she was the only one who could access the space, she was convinced.

Although she did not have a clear plan for the project, recording thoughts in a blog led to a number questions, such as how can I add video and images. This all reminded me of the power of blogging and the importance of letting people find answers for themselves, even if this means being frustrated and failing forwards along the way. As Clive Thompson posits in regards to blogging:

Children who didn’t explain their thinking performed worst. The ones who recorded their explanations did better

On a side note, it is sad to see the end of an era in regards to blogging in Victoria.

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Adults don’t call what we’re doing “homeworking,” we call it “working from home.” Consider not calling it “homeschooling.” Consider thinking about it as “learning from home.” Austin Kleon

As the cases of the coronavirus in Victoria continue to grow and the possibility of a return to learning at home becomes a possibility, I thought I should really stop and reflect upon my experience as a parent supporting our daughter as she learnt from home. I had intended to submit this to the governments review, but time got away from me.

Structure and Rigidity of Online Learning

The learning was very methodical. In many respects, it followed the same structure of the schools day with a block of literacy, numeracy, integrated and personal/social learning. This was supplemented by weekly activities provided by the specialist teachers. Students were encouraged to submit tasks each day, however the only aspect that seemed to be explicitly required was logging into the daily video conference.

A few weeks in, students were given an additional option to pursue a passion project. For my daughter this became Minecraft. This choice came as a breath of fresh air and became a focus for the rest of the time. Sadly, there was little guidance provided and this often led to hours of tinkering and never actually produced any sort of question or problem. It was a reminder that even passions need to be cultivated.

Communication with School

In regards to communication, the parent portal was used to broadcast information via the news feed. This included links to things like daily learning, weekly assembly and any other updates. For those wanting to contact the school, the platform provides a module for messaging a student’s teachers.

The problem with this is that the expectations associated with communication were unclear. Although solutions were put in place, there were no protocols about what would be appropriate. Was it appropriate to provide updates on the struggles that I was seeing at home or were these actually being picked up in the daily conferences? These were things we may have written in the school diary, however for fear of coming across as a helicopter parent, I often stayed silent.

Play and Social Spaces

Each day there was an hourly class video conference. This session usually had a particular focus, such as writing or numeracy. There was also opportunity to connect with other students. However, this space was managed by the teacher. This was the same with the use of Google Classroom. Although there is a space for writing posts, students were encouraged to use this for questions and conversations about learning task.

Although so many of the structures were carried online, one that was absent was a deliberate social space encapsulated in the yard. A part of me understands why. Some may abuse such an opportunity. There is no means of putting in place clear habits and policies before moving online. Also, it would become another thing for teachers to manage. Maybe such a space is the responsibility of home, I still think that this social side is one of the limitations to moving online, a place for play and experimentation.

As Kathleen Morris touched upon in her post on Facebook Messenger for Kids:

One thing that instantly annoyed me about Messenger Kids is that there are so many distractions from the core features of messaging and video calls. There are filters, stickers, and mini games (like spinning to choose a llama head during a video chat… go figure… kids love it!).

My 6 year old is SO drawn to these features as are her friends. So far, this is their main interest during video calls. They don’t talk very much. They just play.

Initially, I kept prompting in the background, “ask them what they’ve been doing”, “stop playing with the effects and talk!”

Then I took a step back and thought, this is what they want to do. This is play. They’re only 6/7 and if they were playing together in the same room, they probably wouldn’t be sitting chatting about what they’ve been up to. They’d probably be playing in a way that’s sometimes hard for adults to understand.

So my way of thinking now is that it’s okay. Maybe the novelty won’t last. However, when my daughter is talking to her grandparents, for example, I’m insisting that she talks rather than simply playing with the effects. It’s about changing your interactions to suit who you are communicating with; a vital lesson for both online and offline encounters.

The Role of the Parent

I found it hard to know my place within the learning process. Maybe this is because I myself am a teacher, but I actually think this made it even harder. Although information was sent home about the expectations of where, when and how students would learn, it was not clear the place I served as an aide within all of this.

In some ways, I felt more akin to being a relief teacher with little agency. Although I was happy to help my daughter unpack various tasks, she regularly made clear, “but you are not my teacher.” Even with a planner provided each day, this did not necessarily elaborate on the intricacies of the various steps and strategies the school or teacher uses.

If schools are forced to work remotely again, it will be interesting to see what stays the same and whether any lessons are learnt. Simon Breakspeare talks about the importance of recognising the effort put in, my fear is that that for many there has not been enough time for such reflection.

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flickr photo shared by mrkrndvs under a Creative Commons ( BY-SA ) license

I have been spending a bit of time lately with the idea of communities of practice. One of the things that becomes clear quickly is that there are many different definitions and descriptions.

Etienne and Beverly Wenger-Trayner suggest that:

Communities of practice are formed by people who engage in a process of collective learning in a shared domain of human endeavour: a tribe learning to survive, a band of artists seeking new forms of expression, a group of engineers working on similar problems, a clique of pupils defining their identity in the school, a network of surgeons exploring novel techniques, a gathering of first-time managers helping each other cope.

While Lani Ritter Hall and Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach describe it as follows:

Communities of practice (or inquiry) are systems of collective critical inquiry and reflection focused on building a shared identity and a collective intelligence garnered over time. Members have a “none of us is as good as all of us” mentality.

Touching on the role of communities, Tony Bates explains that:

The basic premise behind communities of practice is simple: we all learn in everyday life from the communities in which we find ourselves. Communities of practice are everywhere. Nearly everyone belongs to some community of practice, whether it is through our working colleagues or associates, our profession or trade, or our leisure interests, such as a book club.

A report by the US government highlight some of the benefits:

Past research has already suggested that, if designed, implemented, and supported well, online communities of practice can help educators strengthen their performance. Through these online social learning spaces, evidence shows that educators can effectively access, share, and create knowledge, as well as strengthen their commitment to the profession

In there discussion of teaching crowds, Jon Dron and Terry Anderson explain that:

The concept, drawn from anthropological studies, relates to how newcomers to a collection of people, such as a department in a firm, a university, or a group of charity workers, learn the group’s practices and become participants in the community.

One of the problems with each of these definitions and descriptions is that they do not necessarily capture the nuance of each context. Another way of making sense of communities of practice is using the Modern Learning Canvas:

Modern Learning Canvas - CoP

One of the benefits of the canvas is that it provides a structure to talk about learning. Starting with a description of an ideal community, you can then make changes to the canvas based on the needs and purpose of particular situation. For when I think about the communities that I have participated in, whether they be MOOCs (Rhizo14, ccourses, digiwrimo, CLMOOC etc …) or professional learning programs (TL21C), they were all different. They all appraoched things differently, providing for different needs.

So what about you, have you had any experiences with communities of practice? As always, I would love to know.

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