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Using Connected Learning in a Scripted Classroom

I was involved in the Tar River Writing Project Connected Learning  MOOC (#trwpconnect) beginning in February 2014. I was excited to learn both what it was and what we would be doing together.  The first thing we "made" as part of this experience was a user guide that helped the other participants see who we were and how we best learned. We had the flexibility to make it using any technology or using any medium we chose which was hard because I am used to a defined assignment. Like most teachers, I like to do things right, and I was worried I wouldn't meet the facilitators' expectations. That, coupled with my own lack of computer knowledge made it much more time consuming and uneasy for me to complete this make. This is when I began to reach out to others and understand the value of peer collaboration or peer-to-peer networks, as they are called in Connected Learning.  In the end, I got by with a little help from my friends.

After participating in the #trwpconnect MOOC, I wanted to create a plan to implement connected learning in my special education classroom where the program is scripted.  I teach a wide variety of students across ability levels--learning disabled, ADHD, Tourette Syndrome, low IQs, and adaptive behaviors to name a few. Although this scripted program takes up all the time I am allotted, with high time on task, I am hopeful about the possibilities for Connected Learning in my classroom.  Many of you may not be acquainted with scripted programming; basically, the book tells you exactly what to say and do. This type of program does have merits, but it also has its drawbacks. We do have a really good language program that does reach many of my students for basic knowledge, which my kids need, but the real world is not scripted, and I want students to learn to develop relationships that can support them in developing their own interests and learning and living networks.  The more I worked on the principles of connected learning, the more I began to consider how this approach might be especially beneficial for this group of students.

So now I am ready to make a plan. In order to make this work, I have to get students to buy into extremely high time on task during the scripted program so that we can move beyond the basic scripts. I plan to implement CL every Friday as a goal and motivation in my classroom.  Currently on Fridays, we spend the last 20 minutes of class recognizing and rewarding students who have reached their behavior goals for that week. We do different things each week like made pinata pumpkins for halloween, go outside for basketball, play kickball, make ice cream sundays or root beer floats, watch a movie, or play on the computer.

I'd like to structure these times more around production-centered learning and create make cycles like I experienced in the MOOC. I can see real value in beginning these with the user guide so we, as a classroom community, can get to know each other. As our facilitators modeled, I think it's important to make these with the students, using my own as an example to introduce me, their teacher. Examples are useful for anyone learning to do something new, but especially important for young people who have more difficulty with abstract thinking.  Many of them may need more guidance with particular technologies and many will likely feel the way I did when I started the MOOC-- a little bit overwhelmed.

While I can be there to help them through the process and will withhold judgement on these makes by encouraging instead of evaluating them, I want them begin making learning relationships with their peers-- something the scriped program doesn't allow. Many of my students have learned helplessness, and Connected Learning might be just the opportunity that allows them to regain some confidence, learn to work productively with others, and promtp critical self-reflection.  I look forward to using some of the reflective prompts that we were given in #trwpconnect, asking students what they were proud of, uneasy about, or needed more help with.

From there, I'd my students to experience making comic strips because many of them are very artistic and work well making meaning with images. My students have had limited successes in school so every opportunity to bring in their interests and strengths to create success is critical. In #trwpconnect, we made comic strips about a memory that mattered to us, telling stories from our lives. I'd also like my studetns to use some of the scaffolding tools like onion paper for tracing ot be able to cut pictures out, draw stick figures, or use whatever they want to create the narrative. Like me, they my not even feel like they are writing, but they are, making mearning with words and pictures to tell a story.For me, that's one of the interesting take-aways from #trwpconnect.  We did a lot of meaning making with words, pictures, videos, and digital tool, but it did not feel like writing to me.  The usual drugery and fear melted away, and I really want this to happen to my students so they can gain confidence and not be afraid of writing.

Building on the makes we completed in #trwpconnect, I'd also like students to make maps of their homes or communties and work with basic circuitry to increase their spatial and scientific literacies about everyday places and objects.  I think these projects can teach problem solving, but moreover, they can increase engagement.  The map make was, by far, my favorite make and the one I felt most comfortable doing. This  made me think about how interest plays a key role in how quickly and deeply we learn and how hard we're willing to work when learning gets difficult.  My students have so many interest and talents I that the scripted program doesn't engage, and I hope that Connected Learning will help me bring those into the classroom and develop confident and engaged learner.

Ultimately, I find Connected Learning both interesting and frustrating.  It's frustrating becuase there are no predefined ends, and we have to figure out our own learning paths.  Being frustrated, though, pushes me and reminds me of how my students feel too often in traditional classrooms. I am hoping my students, too, will gain passion about learning when they are able to bring their interests, skills, and unique ways of working into the classroom.  WIth connected leraning, I now have a model for how I can move beyong the scripting and infuse authentic making and collaborating into my classroom, pushing both myself and students to embrace messy processes of real learning.

 

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