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Posts Tagged ‘response

Like some educators, I have been facilitating lessons exclusively online for the last two years because of the current pandemic. Unlike my fellows, I have experience during my graduate student years and the last seven consulting years of teaching online. 

Photo by u5468 u5eb7 on

One classroom practice is getting a sense of one’s students. The collective persona they possess can make or break a teaching-learning relationship.

Even though most teachers would prefer going back to face-to-face classrooms, I see the value of online ones. One plus of an online-only class is how more immediately I can get a sense of who my students are even without the social immediacy of meeting face-to-face.

One of my standard practices is sending my students an online poll one or two weeks before our first session. Whatever the course I facilitate, I collect some basic demographics, learner experiences, and learner expectations. This is part of my getting-to-know-you process.

Another part of sensing my learners is how quickly they respond. I am already quite impressed by my incoming batch of students. I sent a poll out in the wee hours of Monday morning. By lunch time of the same day, just over a third of the class had already responded. This is a good sign!

The sensing does not end there. They still need to complete their asynchronous work and respond to my feedback. We still need to video conference during our synchronous sessions. A few will invariably stay back to chat.

But this fact remains: I get a head start in sensing who my learners are before we meet. I get to know them not just in the normal face-to-face way. I gain insights online that I would unlikely get if I relied on the normal way of doing things.

Yesterday I offered graduate students some writing tips for response essays. That set of tips addressed the issue of ill-structured writing.

The other main problem I mentioned was writer mindsets, which is harder to address. My students tend to write for themselves, i.e., they do not consider the reader and/or they write with strategies that they prefer and regardless of need.

The structuring strategies I suggest might help their writing, but only if they realise that the reader is not in the same head space as they are.

One way to learn how others perceive your work is to get them to read it and provide feedback.

Better still, reciprocate the reading and feedback to learn how someone else writes. Doing this might teach you better strategies or give you the opportunity to teach someone else.

I often bring this writing mindset issue up in class to highlight how writing for the reader is like student-centred instruction. The focus is not you; it is them — the reader or the student. Since my leaners have to do both, doing one might help the other.

I spent much of the week providing feedback and grading assignments that included a response essay. That part of the assessment required students to read a statement, agree or disagree with it, and then defend their stance with published evidence.

With a few exceptions, the responses and level of writing worried me. I am recording some reflections while the experience is fresh so that I can take pre-emptive steps next semester. I address two categories: Structured writing and writer mindset.

The main problem seemed to be that students did not know how to structure their responses. So I am offering some writing tips for the next batch of students. (This will add to the ones I had already written for a previous version of the assignment — crafting a teaching philosophy.)

Start with a declarative statement. When asked to make a choice or a stand, state it clearly and concisely at the beginning of the essay. There is no need for personal stories or opinions, trend analyses, waxing lyrical, and grand-standing. Get to the point.

Consider a nuanced stance. A choice is not always binary. Depending on the circumstances, both options could be valid. An option could also lie somewhere in between two extremes.

Defend your position in paragraphs. Each paragraph should contain one main idea or claim. That claim should be backed up with evidence. In the context of the assignment, the evidence should come from published research. The research should be unpacked to highlight how it supports the claim.

Consider counter arguments. A mature point of view is one that recognises contrary findings and perspectives. These might provide nuance to the overall argument or be used to strengthen the original stance.

Write the introduction and conclusion first. These are like the open and close brackets that encapsulate one’s thoughts. When a writer does this, the middle is like beads on a string. Sometimes the flow is simple and moves logically from one end to another. In other instances, the path might branch or is more elaborate. But in all cases, the conclusion reinforces the declarative statement.

I continue with writer mindset in part 2 tomorrow.

It started with a tweet from @hsiao_yun.

I weighed in with this:

Why did we tweet? The original photo was supposed to feature Singapore, but the two men in the foreground were wearing cold weather gear.

Then @RoughGuides tweeted:

I have interacted with many individuals and organizations on Twitter. At least, I have tried. More often than not they do not reply. If they do, they drop canned messages, are ill-equipped, or forget to be social.

@RoughGuides’ tweet had the components of a well-crafted response to critical inputs. Here is a sentence-by-sentence deconstruction.

  • Acknowledgement: Hi there, well spotted on the photo.
  • Admission: This was our mistake!
  • Action: We’re looking into changing it now.
  • Appreciation: Thanks for nudging us!

It changed the main photo of the online resource shortly after tweeting. If only more Twitter entities acted like this.

Being on social media is not about bearing down in silence or ignoring sincere comments or questions. Far too many people and organizations using Twitter do this (@TwitterSG included!). I am ashamed to note that I know teachers and educators who do this too.

Learning on Twitter is about engaging others whether you are right or wrong*. It is about having honest and open conversations. It is about giving back. If we do these consistently, we would learn what it is really like to be social in social media. We would learn something about ourselves and want to be better.

*Addendum: The exception might be responding to trolls.

Last week I volunteered for a school’s career guidance event for students. The students chose who they wanted to interview in half-hour intervals and we shared our hearts out.

A teacher inserted himself into my group’s discussion. As we meandered from one topic to another, that teacher declared this about his students: “They prefer pen and paper.”

No, they do not. Students have been conditioned to accepting them. The Principal of Change articulated this in a recent blog entry:

many of our students are so used to “school” that something outside the lines of what they know terrifies them just as much as any adult. If school has become a “checklist” for our students (through doing rubrics, graduation requirements, etc.), learning that focuses on creation and powerful connections to learning, not only take more effort, but more time, which sometimes frustrates many students.


The problem with... by horrigans, on Flickr
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 2.0 Generic License   by  horrigans 

There is an immediacy to paper which needs to be examined in more ways than one. If you have a notebook or scrap ready, there is quickness of use and illustration that is hard to beat. Some might also value the feel of paper as a form of immediate recognition.

But paper is also immediate in that what happens there immediately stops there. There is no hyperlinking or ease of editing, copying, and sharing. The affordances of paper, as wonderful as they are, also have limited pedagogy: Go where I say, stay where you are, write neatly, do not copy, do not share, etc.

Paper is comforting because it does not push pedagogy to new ground, so schools use a lot of it. Other than the newspaper industry, I do not know any other organization that relies on so much paper. OK, maybe the toilet paper industry.

Ultimately, schools justify the pen and paper mode of instruction because of the pen and paper exams. This is despite the increasingly non-pen and paper life and work that awaits learners when they move on.

Video source

Saying kids prefer pen and paper is like saying they would rather use encyclopedias instead of Google or Wikipedia. (BTW, they know the limitations of those tools better than teachers might expect).

Just ask enough of our kids the same questions the teens were asked in the video above. Their responses might not be as colourful as the ones in the video, but you are likely to get similar responses.

Like the video, you will get a few responses about paper-form books based on nostalgia and tactility. But these come from a place of honesty and passion, not from conditioning by a schooling system that refuses to change. These come from students who learn how to think by themselves instead of providing conditioned responses.

Do we assume nostalgia to be important enough not to change? Do teachers have a right to recreate their own world instead of preparing kids for theirs? I borrow another quote from The Principal of Change in the same blog entry:

if we do not challenge our students in the learning they do in school, what are we preparing them for? What mindset will we actually create in our students? It is important, if not crucial, to really listen and act upon student voice…

How much longer are we going to maintain conditions for “pen and paper” conditioned responses?

I did not think I would be writing a third reflection in as many days on the Sabah earthquake [first reflection] [second reflection]. But I need to respond to a troll in the only way I know how: With reason and in a longer form than a tweet.

This was the someone’s response to my first reflection:

My answer to the rhetorical question is no. I was more than twice the age of the children who climbed Kinabalu but never got down on their own.

However, that does not strengthen the commenter’s argument that I was able to take responsibility for myself unlike a 12-year-old child. Neither do adults like the school principal and trip organizers have to fall on a sword for allowing such an expedition if they have done all they can in preparation and risk mitigation.

When not actually at the mountain, you can mostly build up physical endurance and perhaps work on some team building. You might be able to simulate scenarios for likely events, but you cannot prepare for every eventuality.

When you are on the mountain, the challenges become real. The physical challenges become mental and social. One of the best ways for anyone to learn responsibility is to take care of themselves and others around them. Any well-adjusted adult relearns to do this and is in a constant state of worry for the kids.

Being responsible for oneself and others becomes real for kids too. They have to learn how to walk responsibly, talk responsibly, eat and drink responsibly, and even relieve themselves responsibly. They learn to recognize whether body and/or mind are tiring whether it is their own or in others.

With how careful schools, parents, and organizers are nowadays, these aspects and more were probably part of a preparation regime that students experienced as part of character and leadership development. I would bet that the children were prepared for the climb better than I was for mine as an adult two decades ago.

The biggest issue school authorities, teachers, and trip organizers had to deal with was risk. They would have surely mitigated such risks with protocols like RAMS (risk assessment management system, one example) and a host of other operating procedures. If reflective in their work, they would have learnt from previous expeditions in rise-aboves and debriefings.

Had adults taken the necessary responsibility? I say yes. But can they account for, anticipate, and control everything? Undoubtedly no, like everything else in life.

The risks were low because the region was not known for seismic activity of the scale of last week, the conditioning programmes, and prior experience.

As much as the troll tries to point out that the issue is one of taking responsibility, she means to lay blame on someone like the school principal. If there were risks that adults could remove but chose not to, then there is rightly room for blame. But this is not a transparent issue, so we cannot judge.

If as much preparation and risk mitigation was done as possible, then I repeat the simple wisdom offered by SGAG*: If you’ve nothing better to say, don’t say.

Now is not the time to blame. It is to grieve. It is to support those who have lost loved ones. It might even be to battle trolls who are not helping matters.

In the aftermath, some people here will invariably seek to blame. As I have reflected before, this action stems from a place of ignorance and fear. When this happens, we might heed the warning of Yoda*: Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.

Video source

Have we not suffered enough? I say we stop the vicious cycle by not laying blame, baying for blood, or retreating further into our shells.

Instead, I say we have reasoned dialogue for the sake of all our kids. Let us live, love, and pass it on.

*Granted these are not the most scholarly or philosophically deep sources. One is a satirical site, the other is a fictional character. But if I can rely on such simple truths or wisdoms, then the stones that the trolls throw feel like marshmallows.

Jon Bower of eSchool News believes that “netbooks are all the rage, but they don’t really meet the needs of today’s students”. He goes on to say that netbooks are 1) not that cheap, 2) too small, and 3) not powerful enough. He could not be more misinformed or misleading.

Bower gives an example of a more powerful laptop that can be bought, after a rebate, for US$50 more than a typical netbook. But he failed to mention that few laptops have rebates and that rebates are not guaranteed. In the USA, rebates are a scheme to get people to buy on impulse. But if buyers do not complete the rebate forms in a timely or proper manner, they do not get their rebates. Even if customers play their part, things might get “lost” in the mail. The bottom line is that netbooks are cheaper than laptops and within most school or family budgets.

The issue of netbooks being too small is relative. To an adult with large hands, a netbook’s keyboard is cramped. But to a child, it might be just right. Also consider how most new netbooks are larger than when they first made their appearance about two years ago. Their keyboards are now large enough to touchtype.

Netbooks are meant to be light, lean and longlasting (in terms of battery life). Their power lies in what they allow students to do online, not just what they can do locally using the lightweight processing power CPUs of netbooks. This “limitation” of netbooks is actually a strength: Paired with well-designed curricula, netbooks allow students to develop 21st century skills like communicating, collaborating and creating with people outside the confines of the classroom, being a responsible netizen and having empathy for others.

Ultimately, netbooks are just one element in a suite of powerful tools for learning. To dismiss them as not meeting the needs of students is to miss the larger picture and to ignore a learner’s point of view. The smallish screen and keyboard of netbooks opens the world to learners and this in turn provides learning opportunities that can help them the rest of their lives. If we can do this at a lower cost, I don’t see why not.


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