Friday, October 17, 2008

Formal V Informal

And the reflection on the previous and current cyberdrama projects continues...This project was a massive unertaking, trying to link three different schools through one online space in order to share the creation and presentation of drama work is just...HUGE...and not just for the opportunities it offers our students, but also the experiences the teachers involved got.

At the moment we're in the final reflection stages and the discussion has turned somewhat to "what did the students learn..." and the idea of what formal and informal learning took place. Here's an extract of my thinking on the formal and informal learning experiences my students got out of this project:

I'd agree that during this experience a lot of my students didn't engage in the formal learning attached to it - and I think this was a big weakness in our planning and implementation. The students felt it was pointless and disconnected from their "formal" learning, which is why we get the comment, "Was there even a point to the unit?", "The unit seemed to go nowhere..." and others expressing their confusion and lack of understanding about what the unit was supposed to be about. It's an interesting feature of Gen Y students - they actually do want to engage, but they struggle to unless the experience offers them something in return for their effort.

When we put students in any classroom where the formal learning isn't offering them something they see as valuable it's a given they will test the boundaries and exercise their own power against the "authority". That's one of the biggest struggles facing teachers currently - making sure the content and teaching methods we're using with our students is seen as valuable and therefore is engaging. This is a topic I do a lot of reading, thinking and reflecting about as a teacher looking at what changes we need to see in our classrooms in order to provide a 21st century education.

I think one of the biggest challenges for teachers looking to integrate online spaces into any classroom is utilising these spaces to allow formal learning experiences to be valued by students, and to be honest I don't think we managed to achieve this balance in the Shapeshifter unit. It's been eye opening for me to watch our new cyberdrama project take shape and really take on a life of it's own. Where students produced very little digital content throughout the Shapeshifter unit, they're now producing so much I can't keep up!

Even my more "disengaged" learners are talking drama lingo now - tension, contrast, role, relationships...these are words cropping up in planning and conversations about the unit. Something about my approach to this aspect of our cyberdrama study has flicked a switch between the formal and informal learning going on in our Drama class. I see cyberdrama and the use of online spaces in Drama as a potentially very powerful tool in engaging 21st century learners in formal and informal learning experiences equally - if we get it right. If we get it wrong it can go horribly, horribly wrong.

These thoughts tie closely with a discussion I had with hubby last night after my coffee date. One of the other Smarties works in a primary school where students use their teacher's first name. My first reaction to that was, "...odd...". When I first mentioned it to hubby his knee jerk reaction was, "Yuck! That's wrong. I'd hate it." Then I got to thinking about it.. why do we react that way? How does insisting on using our surnames and titles help the teaching process?

Michael McQueen in his book, "The 'New' Rules of Engagement" talks about Gen Y emphasis on relationships and their approach to the concept of 'respect'. Unlike generations before them Gen Y places certain conditions on giving respect, the concept of respecting someone simply because they're older isn't a concept they accept. McQueen explains that Gen Y will give respect under two conditions - reciprocity and relationship,

"If they see you as a real person and feel a sense of rapport and connection with will find their respect is much easier to earn." (p. 68)

So, maybe this school is onto something...I wonder what affect on the building of a learning community it would have. I'd love to try it, does anyone have any thoughts or experiences to share?

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