June is the Cruellest Month

And so another school year has come to a close. The last four weeks have been very busy: marking, exams, report cards. After months of thoughtful engagement with my students and their blogs, I spent the last few days of this school year calculating medians and grade equivalents that my students achieved on a standardized test. I also had to reduce the work of every student - months of network- and knowledge-building - to one final grade. I had to translate all that engagement into a number. Many of my students were also very busy calculating their averages and memorizing their review sheets for a variety of subjects. Reflection was replaced by the thoughts of "doing well" on exams or achieving that much-coveted average of 80% or higher. Who has time for reflection when we're busy perpetuating the institutionalized commodity of learning? Before the end of the year and the madness that comes with the final exams, in an effort to counteract this focus on grades, I encouraged my students to reflect on their independent research projects that they have been documenting on their blogs. Many of them took up the challenge and gave me an interesting glimpse into their learning.

Sooooooooooooooooo What?

This is unfortunately my final and last post. This is my so what. From my research, I have learned many things. First of all I have learned that children all around are suffering constantly and Canada is not involved in the coalition to prevent child soldiers. I have learned that the training is cruel and intolerable, an experience no child should go through. They are punished for expressing any fear or sincerity, tear shed will only cause blood shed. Overall I would like to continue researching this topic but due to the lack of time I cannot. I hoped I achieved my goal which was to raise awareness about this topic among my classmates. Hope you enjoyed following my topic. (Italics mine)

This is what happens when we compartmentalize learning into neat chunks. There's nothing that's stopping Chloe from continuing her research. I can make sure that she has access to her blog for as long as she needs to. She can also transfer her entries to a Blogger blog, for example, and continue her efforts there. Unfortunately, the one thing that school taught her very well is that learning ends in June, that it is organized into neat units, and that weeks and months of learning can be reduced to a single test or exam.

On Sunday, June 3, 2007, Michael wrote a reflection on his research on genocide and, specifically, the situation in Darfur.

When will we ever learn?

What have we learned now about genocide now? After all the things that have happened with genocide to people over the years all the death, people always forget the results of genocide. We have learned nothing. If we had this would not have happened in Darfur. This genocide has been started by: president Bashir, vice-president Taha, and security chief Gosh. These men are from the Sudanese government. They are supporting the janjaweed militia while lying about doing so. It is a massacre/genocide on all of the non-Baggra population. The Sudanese government is making sure no one finds out anymore and is trying to kill all witnesses of these things. Now this is agreed upon by everyone that this is a genocide. When the United Nations try to help the Sudanese government attacks them. What has begun at just Darfur is now beginning to spread all the way to Chad and Central Africa. This is a current situation that has already had a major effect on people in that area, already 450 000 are dead from violence and disease. This genocide is currently not very big and has not killed huge amount of people yet, but it is growing. Soon it will grow larger if it is not stopped soon. We must stand up and stop the wrongs happening in Sudan.

Both of the above entries show, in my opinion, that these two students engaged as learners. They researched topics that they were passionate about and they have both become experts. They certainly know more about their respective topics than I do. They have created on their blogs a cognitive trail of their efforts. They have created learning objects that I, their teacher, can now learn from and perhaps even use next year when discussing these topics in my class with another group of students.

Of course, I knew about child soldiers and the situation in Darfur - not to mention some of the other topics that my children explored this past year - before the research projects started. But through these blogs, through their research, I have learned more. I have also become engaged not as a teacher who needs to know what the students are doing in order to assess and evaluate, but as a human being whose thirst for knowledge was satiated by a group of fourteen-year-olds who set a goal for themselves - a goal of exploring issues they found relevant and interesting.

The fact that their goals were their own made a big difference.

Their work also made me realize that I can measure their success not only by how much they have learned individually but also by how much they have learned from each other and by how much they have taught me.

Here are some topics that they explored on their blogs:

Child soldiers



Children's Rights

Current Human Rights Abuses

Nazi Human Experimentation

Anne Frank

War Diaries as a Literary Genre

Street Children Around the World

Euthanasia and Physician-Assisted Suicide

Domestic Abuse

Women and Children in the Holocaust

Fascism in Italy

The Warsaw Uprising

The Internment of the Japanese Canadians and Americans

Freedom of Expression Violations

Nazi Propaganda

This past year, through the research that they have been documenting on their blogs, my students expanded my understanding of all of the above issues. They have found many links that I eagerly added to my delicious account. They have expressed views that I had not come across before. They started multiple conversations and expressed themselves in what Darren Kuropatwa calls "galleries of thought." They engaged as researchers interested in expanding their knowledge.

Too bad June had to put an end to that.