Thursday, February 12, 2015

MOOCs, Mentor Texts, and "Motivation Makes"

This blog showcases  students' work they did at the beginning of the semester. I wanted students to immediately create ("make") something textual. 

As it was our first lab session, I wanted to find a safe way for them to express themselves. I also wanted students, when they likely felt hyped about school, to find ways to keep themselves motivated when the going got tough. 

So I decided to hack the "make cycles" from The Writing Thief MOOC (Massive Open Online Course), a digital learning community devoted to investigating Ruth's Culham's The Writing Thief. Culham's text supports writing teachers who use mentor texts to model writing craft for their students. What better way to promote effective writing than to have developing writers observe, identify, and emulate the moves they encounter in the texts they read. 

The "make cycles"  are activities which . . . "encourage participants to interact with the text and with each other as we discuss and implement ideas for  'using mentor texts to teach the craft of writing'" (source). The digital sharing and feedback that comes from "MOOC-ing" also helps us experiment with "connected learning." 

I spliced together the first two make cycles. The first "make" asked  participants to use some digital way of introducing ourselves to our virtual peers. I blended this  task with the "Creative Quote Sharing," the second make cycle. 

I directed students to select a motivational quote - a proverb, a passage from a book, a line from a poem or song, or something someone they know has said - that they could turn to when life throws them a curve-ball that gets in the way of achieving their educational goals. Something inspirational to pump them up when they feel deflated. 

As well, students had to combine the quote with a complementary image, a picture that enhances the their quote. 

I shared as mentor texts several of the ones I made and the Creative Quotes shared on the MOOC. Indeed, the MOOC itself is becoming a "mega/meta-mentor text" for my classes. Where a single mentor text helps me with lessons an units, the MOOC hhelps me for me to think about the what, how, and why of my teaching. 

Since many students are relatively unfamiliar with some of the digital tools available, I limited the tools they could use to Power Point and Google Slides, both supported in our computer lab. They had to create a slide, save the slide as a JPEG or PNG, and then upload that image to our Facebook group page. We started one lab, and they had until the end of second lab to complete their make. 

I pretty much left students on their own devices during the lab, asking students who were familiar with the programs to help the others. Students taught each other how to make slides and how to turn those images into something they could post. Low, low stakes. High engagement - likely because the chose quotes that had personal meaning and because they were able to express their voices. 

They felt great about their work, the published pieces they saw on their Facebook pages and that I showed in class (and will again when we need motivation).  I've posted a few of their makes here on this page. 

The task may sound simple, but lots of learning and associated skills occurred. The skills students practiced are in sync with  Norman Webb's Depth of Knowledge that identifies cognitive rigor. Skills students practiced where all over the DOK range: identify, investigate, connect, synthesize, create, and arrange - tasks that Webb nominates as intellectual work. 

Students also became familiar with software and digital tools they'll need all semester and beyond. And they practiced several "soft skills" - problem-solving, team work, and co-teaching - that constellation of habits students need to do well in classrooms and the workforce. 

I'm happy with what we did - and I want to figure out ways to assess just what they got without making that assessment an judgement of their taste or voice. That's something to think about for next makes, for sure. 

I will also up the ante in the next few days, asking students to develop a short informative blog post that features their quote/image and a short composition that discusses the hows, whys, and implications of their "make." The plan is to push students to analyze, explain, infer, critique, and assess their images and quotes - ratcheting up the cognitive rigor as they revisit their motivational makes. And not simply for my eyes, but for each others', and the larger public audience of their blogs. 

More to come! 

****One interesting note: I tried my best to select a mix of work, quotes and images of women, but to a slide, everyone quoted men.  And the images, if they featured people, were of men. Sport figures and musicians comprised the list of people of color quoted. 

I'll experiment with the next round of prompts that compel students to hunt for knowledge that comes from diverse sources. I need to make that an intentional, explicit part of instruction. Perhaps I can, before they do another make like this, ask students to observe any patterns about the folks and images they chose . . . hmmmmm.