Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Teaching Tip #114

Teacherscribe’s Teaching Tip #114
How can we better engage parents and the community in the process of making school more relevant for students?
I think the answer to this question lies in the technology that the digital generation is so adept at using.  I could see several ways this could be done.  One way – and this happens to be quite popular at our elementary school right now – is to have each student take turns being the social media person for the day.  Several of our elementary teachers have an “Instagramer of the day.”  What is great about this is that when you post something to Instagram, you can also instantly publish it to your Twitter and Facebook accounts too.  I know this is very successful in engaging parents in what goes on in the classrooms there.  I like a point that one education critic made (I think it was John Merrow from PBS, but I’m not sure) – he said that when you are going to purchase a car, you can test drive it several times, you can research it on the internet, you can haggle over the price with the car salesperson.  When you buy a house, you have it inspected, you tour it several times, you can research it online too, and finally you haggle with the real estate agent.  But what about schools?  Outside of their school website (which is probably pretty bland and unengaging), what options do you have to learn about what goes on IN the school on a day to day basis?  None.  But social media, changes that.  It can be a very powerful tool for allowing parents, residents, and others to see the great work that goes on in our schools.
I think using a blog is another way to engage parents and the community in making school relevant.  What I love about Blogger, is that it is such a great platform for other digital tools (such as Youtube, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, TED Ed, Storify, Padlet, and so on).  This allows students to post their work for the world beyond the classroom to see.  Parents can see their work.  Their peers can see their work.  Their grandparents living across the country and see it.  Plus, they can get real world feedback from others besides just me, their teacher.  I had students create short 120 second iMovie trailers for an Edgar Allan Poe story of their choice.  Then I had them publish them to Youtube.  One student got feedback from someone in another country!
My favorite story about the power of Blogger to engage parents and the community and to make school more relevant happened a few years ago.  In my College Composition course I had a reluctant writer.  He struggled to get me anything over a page.  So when I told him we’d be writing a “braided essay,” which is an essay that includes several various essays “braided” together, of around 12 pages, he thought I was nuts.  I urged him to write about something he was passionate about.  After a little discussion, the student settled on deer hunting.  For his “braided essay” he wrote one rite of passage essay about the first buck he shot.  He wrote another personal history essay on how his grandfather taught him to hunt.  He wrote a how to essay on how to shoot the perfect buck.  Finally, he included a narrative essay chronicling how much he loved gathering with his family late every fall at “deer camp.”  In all, it was said and done he had over 10 pages.  He was so proud.  Traditionally, that would be the end of the process.  However, I decided to include it on my personal blog along with my own braided essay that I wrote as an example for the class.  I couldn’t believe it, but the blog post became a hit.  Every week I get people landing on my blog from all over the country.  They are researching the braided essay and my blog, featuring this student’s essay, pops up.  I just did a Google Search on “the braided essay,” and my blog post with this student’s essay was the sixth option listed on Google.  

Here is the post.  What a great way to show the power of writing and story!

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