Learning Stories - Part 2

In my last entry I wrote about Learning Stories, an assessment strategy used in early childhood education in New Zealand. Ever since I first learned about this approach, I’ve been interested in how it would translate to middle school or high school. As I wrote in my previous entry: Learning stories are about documenting, through narratives, what children can do and what they are learning. They represent learning as essentially a dynamic, evolving, and ongoing process. They do not reduce learning to a score that children get at the end of the unit or semester … or a level that defines them as they start a new school year, with a new teacher.

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Learning Stories: Part I

A few years ago, after facilitating a session on assessment in the 21st-century classroom, I was approached by one of the workshop participants and asked what initially prompted me to start reconfiguring my classroom practice and my approach to classroom assessment. I said: “I asked myself a few basic questions: What do I want my students to be now and when they’re older? What skills do I want them to have? Who do I want them to be as human beings?”

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Classrooms as Third Places

On Monday, August 20th, Leigh Blackall invited me to give a short talk to his class on building online communities. I chose to focus on the steps that I take every September in order to prepare an online space for my grade eight students. I don't see it as a process of building a community but, rather, as a process of laying the foundations, of ensuring that the online environment I prepare can grow into a vibrant and engaging community characterized by meaningful and personally relevant interactions. The idea here is to ensure that the students see the online environment as their own - not merely an extension of the classroom, but a place where they feel free to interact and write as individuals. The title of my presentation comes from a concept devised by an American urban sociologist Ray Oldenburg. My research on his work led me to an organization called Project for Public Spaces, a non-profit organization dedicated to creating public spaces and communities. Their diagram of the key attributes of great public spaces inspired me to try to relate their work to my experiences online.

Over the years, I have noticed that the online community that I build with my grade eight students every year often resembles a third place. I decided to investigate what contributes to this recurring development. I discovered that starting with the right foundations, ensuring that certain features and freedoms are in place before learning begins, can have a strong impact on the development of a classroom community and its potential movement away from what Oldenburg calls "second place" (a place of work) and towards a third place - an informal meeting place that can facilitate and support creative interaction.

Third Places

This presentation is my attempt to explain how the right foundations can contribute to the emergence of a community that displays at least some characteristics of a third place.

(If you're interested in the concept of third places, I highly recommend Teemu Arina's presentation, Serendipity 2.0: Missing Third Places of Learning.)

  • Click the image above to access the SlideShare version of the presentation (with audio).
  • Click here to view the Elluminate recording of the presentation.
  • Click here to download the mp3 file only.
  • Click here to download the mp3 file of the post-lecture discussion.