The main focus of our PARTS project was to see if publishing online improved student learning.
Did you achieve the intended purpose and how do you know? If not, why not?
I don’t think that we have come up with a definitive answer for various reasons. As discussed throughout the PARTs project on my Blog I believe that while student writing has definitely improved it isn’t necessarily because it was published online. Using the AuthorThink process showed a much greater improvement in the students work and in their learning. The Author Circle in particular helped student develop a vocabulary to give both warm and cool feedback to their peers.
Some teachers had lots of students who asked for their work not to be improved because they had just found a mistake and wanted it to be perfect. I only had this happen three or four times but even if I had had this happen, this only relates to the students improving their editing and doesn’t cover all the other areas that the AuthorThink process does.
I did notice that student writing on the blog improved but I put this down to having set high expectations rather than because people could see it online. We also didn’t get a lot of people commenting on our blogs other than the students when they were actually at school.
What I did find is that the blog provided a way for teachers to actively view each child’s writing as an administrator needed to approve the post. We were able to do individually conferencing by working through the students work with them in order to approve it and where they needed to do more editing and revising, they could write a short list of changes to make then resubmit. They were definitely more enthusiastic about editing and revising doing it this way. A lot of this is because it is a lot less strenuous to edit and revise typed work. They also have trouble rereading their own work especially once it has been edited (as do I).
I don’t think our research actually answers the research question so I would say one of the most important things I’ve learnt is that the research question does need to be carefully constructed so that it can be clearly answered. As someone with a very scientific approach, I found having no ‘control’ group made it frustrating and difficult to actually say that it was in fact online publishing that improved the students learning. Also, we complicated the research by explicitly teaching the AuthorThink process at the same time. I’m more than happy to conclude that the AuthorThink process improved students learning and that be able to type rather than really on their own handwriting both improved student productivity and encouraged them to return to the same piece of writing for editing and revising.
What were the most important things you learned…
This research project reinforced my own preference for having a scientific approach to research where clear, unbiased, data specific to the research focus can be collected and analysed.
I am certainly more enthusiastic about including a blog as part of my teaching repertoire particularly to encourage students with poor handwriting to be more engaged in writing and more productive. However, I would certainly not recommend students never needing to write by hand and I think the AuthorCircle was much more effective when students met and gave feedback in groups rather than giving written feedback via the blob. Having the author write down the feedback they were given was more effective in them understanding what the peer was saying about their ideas where as students tended to only give secretarial feedback via the blog.
How often did you read blogs of other members of your team?
Rarely, mainly because we discussed our findings as we were writing our blogs as well as throughout the week in general. Plus at the start sometimes we even wrote one blog and posted on both because it was what we intended to do for the project.
To be honest I rarely read other teachers PARTs blogs. I have read them when directed and I have made an effort to leave a comprehensive response. It’s all well and good to say in only takes a few minutes each night to have a look at one teachers blog but when you then have a class blog to read, comments to approve and respond to plus a level blog plus individual children’s blogs it is a big ask. I tend to read blogs from other teachers around the world who are writing about something I’m specifically interested in at that point in time.
How did you find the process of documenting your actions, learnings and reflections on the blog?
I didn’t really like the process of documenting on my own blog because it was separate from others. I think a group blog would have improved our ‘online discussions’ where as we did do a lot of professional discussion that we then all had to individual document (not an effective use of time) and potentially a lot of what we discussed didn’t make it to the blog. The logistics of the blog also didn’t work very well. Having to do a new post each time broke up the flow of the project and often comments left on one post had already been answered in another post so there was a lot of doubling up as well meaning the feedback from others was not always very effective (having already been reflected upon on another post but not seen by the person commenting).
I would have preferred to actually just keep a journal (in Word) and emailed it to people for feedback because then it would have flowed from start to finish.
Another problem was that the majority of the time I couldn’t use my iPad to do any blogging (still can’t).
I also don’t like the nature of presenting written work without any drafting and editing first. We warn the students that there are some things you don’t tell people by email or text because they can be easily misinterpreted so easily (especially without the expression you use in an oral presentation and without the ability to clarify on the spot). I am already aware that some of what I have written has been misinterpreted and I think that this happens even more so for typed work and especially for a blog than it does for general conversation. For me that’s a big concern and I do worry about how people will judge me based on what I’ve written which is essentially my own personal reflection on MY teaching and learning and what I have noticed about MY students during the process.
What new professional learning needs emerged for you from the experience of this action research?
Mainly how to use and manage a blog. Learning about this was much more effective when we worked with just our own level rather than when we tried to do it as a whole staff and having a class blog rather than a level blog was also much more supportive and effective.
Reflect on changes to PARTs
I have only used the Considering Evidence Protocol (CEP) during 2012 so I don’t feel that I’ve completely seen whether or not it was effective. When I did do it, I felt it was a bit tedious and inflexible however I liked that all teachers had to make some response. Certainly by swapping to an individual blog the breadth and depth of feedback was lost. Yes, we all could have read and commented on more but as I’ve already said, there are time constraints that can’t be ignored. Another issue was the inconsistently between teachers when they did read and comment on other teachers blogs. Some people read all the posts and left detailed comments, others didn’t. The people who did read all the posts and leave detailed comments, particularly Bec and Chris, spent a considerable amount of time doing so (a lot more time was needed to do this than when using CEP) as they had to do it individually for each teacher’s blog.
I think the first thing I would do to in improve the PARTs project would be to allow teachers to individually choose a research question or choose a research question relevant to their level/cohort or relevant to their ARMs. Ideally at the end of the year ARMs some drafted research questions could be posed that the individual teacher would like to address the following year so that before PARTs starts more thought can go into the structure of the research question itself.
Our question was developed because of the Contemporary School Research Project and because we work in communities and professional learning teams it was pretty much an expectation that we work in levels. While this wasn’t necessarily a problem this year, I believe the PARTs project could be more effective if teachers were really able to research what they are interested in professionally or even present it in a way that suits their own learning and teaching style rather than be all expected to present their work in the same format (a blog). If we are pushing Walker Learning which basically says learning happens when students research something that relates to a person interest they already have then it holds that as teachers we should also be linking our professional learning to our own interests in some way.
For example, blogging was basically what we were researching but I don’t feel that a blog was the best way to present our findings especially since it only really encouraged reflection and teacher judgement. Being a much more logically analytical person I would have been interested in presenting samples of students work before and after. Yes these could have been imbedded into the blog but that’s another expectation for time and teacher skill development. Having started learning how to use Prezi last year I would have loved an opportunity to further develop those skills especially since I could learnt the things I didn’t master last year.
I also would have been interested in choosing an app or a couple of apps and seeing how learning was improved when students used iPads as a learning tool since there is so much learning happening for both teachers and students with the iPad program.
Perhaps if we continue to think on what we are endorsing with Walker Learning Approach we need to consider that if having an Expo is important for the students to showcase their learning – even if they had a blog – then don’t we need to provide some kind of expo for teacher learning. I certainly feel like presenting work last year to the staff, although stressful, allowed a sense of achievement and closure. Not that the learning about online publishing won’t continue but that the ‘formal’ research project does.