Category Archives: Technologies

Blogging with Freire

Steve Wheeler agreed to sharing this fantastic post on under a Creative Commons License.

Well …. not exactly. Paulo Freire, that great Brazilian educational thinker died in 1997, just as the World Wide Web was emerging in the Western world. So Freire didn’t actually live to see the power and potential of social media, or the impact blogging would have on education. But what would he have said about blogs if he had been witness to the participatory web in all its present glory? Here is my interpretation of some of his ideas, drawn from his most celebrated book ‘Pedagogy of the Oppressed’, and presented in six key points as they might apply to the art of educational blogging.

1) Respond to reader comments with humility. Freire wrote: “…dialogue cannot exist without humility. Dialogue, as the encounter of those addressed to the common task of learning… is broken if the parties (or one of them) lack humility. How can I dialogue if I always project ignorance onto others and never perceive my own?” (p. 71). This is not just a message for educational bloggers. It is a message for teachers everywhere. How can we stand there in a self proclaimed position of enlightenment, and view our students (or audience) as being in a state of ignorance? This is hubris of the first order. And yet that is what happens in many classrooms across the world every day, because that is often how teachers are trained. It is also acknowledged that many teachers teach in the same way they themselves were taught. In a blogging context, it is easy to be offended when an adverse comment is received on your blog. You may be tempted to respond aggressively, to ‘put the other person right’. Often though, good learning occurs when we consider the views of others. Even if we don’t agree with the views of other people, it is good to consider them, to evaluate their meaning and contemplate alternative perspectives. Dialogue is what blogging is really about.

2) Don’t be afraid to speak out. Freire counsels: “Washing one’s hands of the conflict between the powerful and the powerless means to side with the powerful, not to be neutral.” It’s clear that there is a lot of inequality in the world, and some of this exists within the world of education. Schools are not perfect, and there is no education system in the world that has it completely correct. There is no better place for speaking out against injustice, or exposing inequalities than a popular blog site. It’s better than owning a newspaper. People will read what you have to say if you have something interesting to speak about. So use your blog to speak out on behalf of those who can’t speak out for themselves.

3) Use blogs to circumvent regulated learning. Students who blog quickly realise that they can explore knowledge for themselves. They can become independent learners. Freire was critical of the banking approach to education, where teachers regulate learning: “The teacher’s task is to organise a process which already occurs spontaneously, to ‘fill’ the students by making deposits of information which he or she considers constitutes true knowledge” (p. 57). When a learner starts to blog, they start to think for themselves. They have to consider an audience of more than one (teacher and essay writing) and they are required to be masters of their own journey. In another sense, blogging can subvert traditional education in another way. The dialogue that can ensue from blogging is often more valuable than the act of writing on the blog. Quadblogging and the 100 Word Challenge are just two of the school based blogging projects that are making a real difference for learners by providing them with a guaranteed audience every time they blog.

4) Read other people’s blogs and make comments. The act of seeking out alternative perspectives and views in itself will sharpen the reader’s thinking and cause them to question received knowledge. Freire says: “… it is indispensable to analyse the contents of newspaper editorials following any given event. ‘Why do different newspapers have such different interpretations of the same fact?’ This practice helps develop a sense of criticism, so that people will react to newspapers or new broadcasts not as passive objects of the ‘communiques’ directed at them, but rather as consciousnesses seeking to be free” (p. 103). Alongside newspapers and news broadcasts we can add blog commentaries. Blogs are places where people can express their opinions and offer their interpretations, and these are the new street corners where individuals have their conversations. Engaging with knowledge in this way will liberate the mind and help develop critical thought.

5) Use blogging to support thinking. Often, abstract thoughts remain abstract unless they are externalised in some concrete form. Traditionally, writing has been used as a means to crystallise thinking, because as Daniel Chandler says “In the act of writing, we are written.” Freire writes that “In all the stages of decoding, people exteriorise their view of the world” (p 87) which implies that in order to understand our personal reality, we need to first bring our thoughts out into the open. Blogs are public facing tools that enable their owners to externalise their thinking in a way that is open for scrutiny. In the act of public writing, we expose our ideas and begin to understand our own thoughts more clearly.

6) Use blogging as reflection. Reflection is an important part of learning, and is a skill that must be developed if it is to lead to successful outcomes. Reflection is also the key to personal liberation. Friere argues that: “Attempting to liberate the oppressed without their reflective participation in the act of liberation is to treat them as objects which must be saved from a burning building” (p 47). Reflection means active participation in learning, and blogging is a very powerful tool to support this process.

Freire, P. (1970) Pedagogy of the Oppressed. London: Penguin.

Photo by Steve Wheeler

What do we mean by Active Learning?

Cross-posted from Not Just Any Brick In The Wall

This question was posed as a way of ‘advertising’ a CPD session. The shortest answer given was simply a department’s name, the inference being that the department in question was ‘active learning’ – can this be true?

Building the Curriculum 2 (2007) provides the following definition: “Active learning is learning which engages and challenges children’s thinking using real-life and imaginary situations. It takes full advantage of the opportunities for learning presented by:

    • spontaneous play
    • planned, purposeful play
    • investigating and exploring” …. p (5) and so it goes on.

Here’s the problem I have with this definition; it’s far to woolly, indeed that accusation might be levelled at CfE as a whole – but that’s for another day! What seems to be the case from conversations had or overheard is that some have taken the bulleted points, put them in a High School context and now believe that active learning is having pupils moving about, making stuff or acting! Educationally, they could not be more wrong.

The phrase ‘active learning’ in this context is essentially to do with meta-cognition: the understanding and awareness of one’s own thought processes. From an educational (pupil) point of view it can be defined as:

  • any instructional method that engages a pupil in their learning
  • requiring pupils to think about what they are doing
  • pupils learn by engaging in a process of sense-making
  • pupils actively constructing new meaning (being cognitively involved) and in a social sense actively collaborating with others

I know from bitter experience that some pupils put no thought into what they are doing. But, If we accept this definition then we can say that active learning requires more of a pupil than simply doing stuff. It involves pupils actively involved in planning and evaluating their own learning, initiating learning experiences and planning what they hope to achieve. It involves creating an environment in which pupils can think; use their imaginations; test out their ideas and try to solve problems whilst learning from their mistakes. At its very best it should encourage pupils to undertake a range of activities for their own satisfaction and enjoyment, rather than having pre-set outcomes ‘forced’ on them – challenging in our current set-up I admit.

There are many ways to achieve these aspirations, here are some suggestions (not an exhaustive list) that I’ve used in my own classroom:

  • Introduce co-operative learning groups
  • Collective problem-solving; groups come up with solutions and insights that may not come about individually.
  • Providing collaborative work skills; pupils learn to work together rather than just dividing the workload.
  • Peer reviewing; pupils review each others work and suggest corrections or improvements
  • Self-mark/evaluate work; pupils assess own work against agreed criteria (or a marking script)

    S4 GC pupil self-marking

  • Remove all the erasers for the class and have pupils correct their work using colour pencils

    Self correction – no eraser

  • Pupils review the learning experience and make judgements about how well they have learned and what they need to do next

    S3 pupil self-assessment

I’m trying very hard to not just include active learning as an ‘add on’ in my lessons but to make it central to my pedagogy, it has not been easy. Resistance comes from many quarters the most surprising (for me) was from pupils; one pleading “…why can you not just tell me what I need to know” and “…why can’t you just teach the normal way”. Herein lies the problem, if pupils are being taught ‘the normal way’ in most of the rest of the school this way does appear very different to them and puts them out of their comfort zone. That said I’ve had very positive comments from most pupils on the changes I’m making.

To date the most successful of the suggestions I’ve made and tried have been peer reviewing and self marking. Removing the erasers is starting to work but it’s a pupil ‘goto’ response to a mistake so will take time. And that’s the point here, anything we do different in class will take time to embed and make a difference, but if you believe in it you need to persevere.

The evidence I’ve looked at suggests that passive pupils sitting listening to the teacher or doing without thinking/reflecting do not retain enough knowledge to instil deep understanding and that for this to happen they need to be actively involved in reviewing and assessing their learning and adapting it to make sense to them. So if you make one change to your pedagogy this year, make it this one.

Readings that helped me:

Grabinger, R. S., and Dunlap, J. C., (1996), Rich environments for active learning: a definitionin Wilson, B. G., (1996) Constructivist Learning Environments. New Jersey, Education Publications Inc.

Prince, M. (2004) Does Active Learning Work? A Review of the Research, Journal for Engineering Education, 93(3), 223-231

Watkins, C., Carnell, E. & Lodge, C. (2007). Effective Learning in Classrooms.London, Sage.

#EducScotICT – Using new technologies to demonstrate / reflect on learning

Cross-posted from Mrs Wex’s blog

This week I was fortunate enough to be asked to attend and present at the ICT Summit held at the Stirling Management Centre. The summit was held to discuss the 5 objectives set by Michael Russell, MSP when he made the announcement about the future of glow.

The 5 objectives were

1) To change the culture of the use of ICT

2) To improve confidence in the use of ICT for learners, teachers, school leaders and parents

3) To promote new behaviours for teaching

4) To deepen parental engagement

5) To strengthen position on hardware and associated infrastructure

Richard Nealsson gives a very good overview of the whole event in his blog post.

I was asked to present on the 3rd Objective – To promote new behaviours for teaching.  Below is the transcript of my presentation and the full length version of the video I showed.

Using new technologies to demonstrate / reflect on learning

We have been using Glow for just over a year.  It has totally transformed teaching and learning in my classroom.  It has enabled me to embed ICT throughout all areas of the curriculum and is not seen as a separate add on subject.

Now when planning work instead of thinking, what piece of written work or worksheet can I use to evidence children’s learning and understanding, I think what piece of technology or web tool can I use.

Glow has given us the space to house all our digital evidence as most of the tools we use can be embedded either into a glow group or a glow blog.  Over the past year we have been developing our use of glow blogs.

Each pupil has their own individual eportfolio which can be used as a learning journal.  In these eportfolios they can embed videos, slideshows and other web tools as evidence of their learning.  They can also use it as a place to reflect on their learning and share wider achievements.

This year we have also started a class blog in order to share our learning with parents and other schools.  So far we have had over 300 visits to our site and comments from as far away as Florida.  The pupils are highly motivated by these comments.  You can visit our blog by googling Wellwood Primary Blog.

These (see photo below) are just a few of the web tools we have used this year.  For example we created vokis, which are animated avatars, to record our burns poems.  We used I can animate to create digital still animations for our Myths and Legends topic.

The level of writing within the class is still high as although the final outcome of these activities is a digital one, often they require researching or script writing.  There are still a very large percentage of teaching staff who don’t realise all these resources are available and often free to use.  Levels of pupil engagement and their ability to work cooperatively have greatly improved.

We’ve achieved a lot in a year but we only have a ratio of 2 pupils to 1 computer, imagine what we could achieve with 1:1.

Technical Education in the Scottish Borders

Last week I presented a seminar at the Scottish Learning Festival playfully entitled “Breaking Boundaries – technical education in the Scottish Borders”. I attempted to portray a snapshot of what is going in on in some of the SBC schools in terms of developing new courses in S1 and S2 with an emphasis on CfE. It was a rewarding experience, if an uncomfortable one. I asked for challenging questions and I certainly got them. Thank you to everyone who came, and thank you in particular for those who joined in the debate at the end.

I have uploaded my presentation to slideshare for those who would like to see what I covered, take a look here.

Are we just ‘tinkering around the edges’ as one person asked? I hope not. Certainly before the question was asked I thought we were doing more, and I still think that we are, though it was a difficult question to ask of myself. It was difficult to give enough detail in such a short session so I think I may have not given everyone what they wanted – and I didn’t attempt to – but hopefully I didn’t give too many people the wrong end of the stick as I fear I may have done.

(Cross posted at my blog