April 03, 2005

The game of school

A post, and a familiar whine, over at the always excellent and thought-provoking weblogg-ed news
So one of the frustrations I've felt with my own practice with student Weblogs and the like is the veritable dearth of students who continue to blog after the class is over.


This got me thinking again about the "game of school". I would put the question the other way around: why SHOULD students continue blogging after class? After all, as EVERYONE KNOWS, the whole POINT of school is to get credits and good scores, so why would anyone want to continue working on something after school, after hours? I'm not arguing against learning, I'm just trying to see it from students' point of view.

About 6 months ago, I had a conversation with a student about the quizzes I give in class. I had made worksheets for a listening class. I had told the class, both in writing and orally, my basic beliefs about language learning: that it requires a lot of input, practice and study, in that order, and that we were going to listen to a variety of different materials in order to try to satisfy the first requirement. THe worksheets' purpose was to give them something to focus on, to make the listening a more active, erm, activity. I didn't say I was going to mark or grade or correct the worksheets, tho I did collect them. But this student told me how it appeared to the students: some students had dropped out of class because they were able to fill in less than half of the blanks on the worksheets and therefore assumed that they would fail the class. "Yes, I know you told us about the importance of input and all that, and that you weren't concerned about scores, but there's this image of school, isn't there?" he said when I tried to point out that was never my intention. Worksheet = quiz = getting as many right as you can = pass/fail. Doesn't matter what the teacher actually SAYS, or writes on the board. What matters is the image students have of school, classes, worksheets.
One of the first things I'm going to do when classes start in a few days, is give students a quiz, collect the papers in, get the big trashcan from out in the corridor and ceremoniously dump all their papers in it. If they don't pay attention to what I SAY, maybe that will grab their attention.

2 comments:

Barbara Ganley said...

Marco,

Both your post here, your December post and your reply to Will are right on the mark. We have to look at what we're asking kids to do and why--what are we telling them about why they're in our classrooms.

I love your idea of the quiz-in-the-trash. I hope you blog the story of that day.

I think that blogging (and other uses of social software) can actually help our students lift their heads from "the game of school" for a moment, to step outside the game altogether and discover something essential about the value of commnunity, the pleasures of communication, the joys of having a say in the world.

After four years of building a reputation at Middlebury College among the students for being the teacher who neither gives grades on individual work nor lectures but has students blogging and working collaboratively in intense communities of learning, finally I'm finding myself having to ask a new question: how do I help students who want to keep blogging bring their blogs into other classrooms or other learning experiences or out into the world?

Little by little something is shifting. We have to be a little patient with our students who've been trained all their lives how to play the game when suddenly we say it's not only okay to color outside the lines, it's essential to do so.

Chris L said...

A couple of points here:

First, my own post wasn't so much about blogging when class is over (though I have things to say on that), but about having enough time invested in the practice to really understand and make an informed decisition regarding what the act of blogging can do for someone and how it can be a useful part of one's practice as a learner (or not).

Even in a class dedicated to learning about social software, one semester is probably not enough-- thus my desire to see it embedded as part of educational practice for longer periods of time. THEN let's see how many people continue...

Second-- I would like to see people elevate their teaching past just the direct subject and into the realm of a) helping foster inquisitiveness and support students in becoming motivated, curious learners and b) embedding the acts in the classroom into the larger community of practice in even this often small and most introductory of ways...

Then we are really getting somewhere!