By: Andrea Blackerby & Amanda Young
University of San Diego
“We believe that to be literate in the twenty-first century, students must become composers and readers of hypermedia,” (Wilhelm, Friedemann, and Erickson 1998, p. 20)
The world in which we live is vastly different from the world in which most of us as educators grew up in. When we were going to school, the existence of technology was obviously not as it is today. Today’s kids are beyond proficient when it comes to technology and all that is has to offer. It is their second language, and a place where they are innately comfortable to exist. The way in which I teach has changed to embrace the developments we see in the field of technology. According to Peter Elbow, students are learning (or should be learning) how to create texts that are different than the traditional five-paragraph essay of yesterday (2000, p. 30). One of my jobs as an educator is to prepare my students to be productive and positively contributing citizens of the world. One way to do this is through 21st century skills like creativity and innovation, critical thinking and problem solving, communication, and collaboration.
In a 4th-grade classroom in the Santa Ynez Valley, a group of students are being given as many opportunities to work on these 21st century skills throughout the year. One way this is accomplished is through blogging. At the beginning of the year the teacher, Mrs. Young, shows her students how to use the platform Kidblog.org to write their weekly reading responses. Mrs. Young began this form of response because she was tired of the traditional, “how many did you read this week?” and “have your parents sign it” format. The kids needed something fresh and new to share what they read with a more meaningful audience. Scott Gibbons’ article (2010) on using a Wiki to collaborate through writing, reinforces this idea of writing with a purpose and an audience in mind to increase student engagement and achievement. The teacher also began using Twitter to find other schools who are using Kidblog.org for blogging to see if her students could make some connections with 4th-graders from across the country. Another way in which collaboration is used through writing is with the CA Native American unit. Every year Mrs. Young assigns partners to do a research project on a specific CA Native American tribe. These partnerships have to collaborate through reading, researching, taking notes, and creating a slideshow presentation for their peers and parents. Students work together to make a digitally enhanced (Hicks, 2013) web-based project by incorporating images, videos, various fonts and colors, and text into their slideshows. They learn how to use the animations to change from slide to slide, and they learn how to record the narration of their slideshow.
A lot of work goes into creating a positive learning environment in this 4th-grade classroom before collaboration can even take place. The students start at the beginning of the year talking about respect and what it looks like, sounds like, and feels like. They use Kate Kinsella's 4 L’s to create a feeling of positivity when interacting with each other. These students learn that talking and collaborating with a partner isn’t just about what you are saying, it is also about how you are saying it. A lot of time and effort is spent working on these principles. Another thing that helps collaboration to be more successful with her students is to make sure learning is relevant to them. The goal is for them to be excited about what they will be collaborating on. Finding topics that interest them as well as playing to their learning styles, makes them more willing to work. There is also a lot of talk about conduct and what is okay versus what is not okay in terms of behavior. Students are given multiple opportunities for role playing so they can see what examples of cooperating versus non-cooperation actually looks like.. Finally, when collaboration is in effect, there is a lot of reinforcement of positive behaviors and celebrating when they are working well together. When problems do arise (and they do) students try to attack the problem in a positive way, emphasizing that they need to be careful with their language and how they talk to each other. Needless to say, collaboration with 4th-graders is not perfect, but it is so valuable to their learning process.
Collaboration is valuable at all ages and stages. In a first grade classroom in Albuquerque, New Mexico, students are working together to analyze and create media. First, students watched popular advertisements that are geared towards them as consumers and analyze the different aspects or techniques that the producers used. Students as a whole class discussed their ideas and explained their thinking. After, a complete analysis was completed students were put into groups and were expected to become the producers of similar print media. The final product was to create a print advertisement of classroom supplies. Two groups chose to advertise crayola crayons and one group chose to promote books and reading. The students were responsible for assigning a photographer, models, director and illustrator. All of the groups added writing to their photos and additional pictures to make their add more visually appealing.
With this in mind, critical media literacy theory is geared towards revamping the traditional educational framework; students are not receptacles where teachers can dump knowledge and facts into, with all of the information and facts available to students, memorization is no longer the key to academic success. Students need to have the ability to think critically about media and work towards producing a variety of media as well. By choosing this lesson, students were given the opportunity to think about the construction of the media and then were able to take what they know about the media and produce their own advertisement. This is supported in the components shared in Critical Media Pedagogy (2013) “learning must be active, authentic, participatory and empowering” (pg.16). This kind of framework translates into students as producers and critical consumers of the world around them instead of the traditional banking model. Students in the past needed to learn everything because they didn’t have access to the knowledge the way that students today do. Students today need to create and analyze as presented in Literacy for the 21st Century (2003) “navigating their lives through multi-media culture, being fluent in “reading” and “writing” the language of images and sounds…in addition to the language of printed communications”.
In addition to the collaborative process that first graders experience when producing their own media, collaboration is also present in many of the traditional activities of the classroom. Primary teachers rely on the power of collaboration during small group rotations, mainly because the teacher is with a small group and the rest of the class needs to be able to work amongst themselves without the teacher’s help cue collaboration techniques. Students in Ms. Blackerby’s first grade class collaborate with one another when rotating from one group to another during Mathematics and Language Arts Rotations. The students are grouped in order to make sure that students have models in each group that can help and support their classmates. Students are making interactive notebooks in both subjects which takes teamwork because each group is making one notebook. Traditionally, students are making individual notebooks but not this year. This year each group is preparing a notebook and although groups change throughout the year as abilities and needs change the group identifications stay the same and students are expected to join a new group and pick up where they need to. So far, this group project has been successful in establishing teamwork skills in the classroom and I think it is a great collaborative foundational exercise.
To conclude, collaboration is an important skill for students to develop to be successful in today's 21st century careers and academics. Educators are responsible for facilitating different collaborative techniques at all ages in order to prepare students for the integrated/interconnected world of today. With that said, it is important to consider all of the digital platforms and applications available to today’s classroom to support students in collaboration. If you are an educator or student looking to branch out into some collaborative online platforms consider looking into Wikis, Google docs and Edmodo; these media tools can be used to produce digital writing pieces.
Elbow, P. (2000). Using the collage for collaborative writing. In Everyone can write: Essays toward a hopeful theory of writing and teaching writing (p. 397). New York: Oxford University Press.
Gibbons, S. (2010). Collaborating like never before: reading and writing through a wiki. National Council of Teachers of English, 99(5), 35-39. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/27807189
Hicks, T. (2013). Crafting digital writing: composing texts across media and genres. Portsmouth, NH: Heinneman
Morrell, E., Duenas, R., Garcia, V., Lopez, J. (2013). Critical Media Pedagogy: Teaching for Achievement in City Schools.
Toffler, A. (2003). Literacy for the 21st Century: The Challenge of Teaching In a Global Media Culture.