We watched a video recently about the “Authentic Audience” in my The Coach course. In it we were asked to reflect on the possibility of opening up students’ work to a wider audience. In the video, Kim Cofino, my coaching mentor, discussed how content creation is happening all around us as teachers. However, often in classrooms, students are given only a few options in how they create content. She posed the question: “How can we help them to create better content?”
This video resonated heavily with me this week. It seems the concepts have been in my mind as sort of my driving force for a while, but I had not yet fully conceptualised it in the way that Kim explained it. I even have a t-shirt from Book Creator with the message: “Creating content is the ultimate demonstration of understanding.” I chose this to become my own motto when I became a Book Creator Ambassador because it resonated so strongly with me.
I have noticed that, as teachers, we often struggle to see how our students have taken knowledge and converted it to understanding. Creating content after consuming content is a good way to process your thinking. We often ask students to process their thinking through exit tickets, so could we ask them to process their thinking through content creation? I think that we can.
Yet, I can hear teachers saying:
- “My students are too young.” If they are too young then maybe the creation medium is not the best fit for this task and these students. Is there another way to do it?
- “My students will just copy what they have heard/seen/read/.” If they copy what they have heard, seen, or read, then this gives you data about where those students are in the process of converting knowledge to understanding. Often students who have not moved to understanding fill presentations with copied and pasted information. How can we insure that they move to understanding?
- “My students don’t have that level of skill.” If they don’t have the skill level to complete the task then how can you ensure that they develop that skill before they are asked to use it? So that content creation becomes about the content and not the creation. Is this tool the best medium to use at this time? How can you build skill before students need to display competency in using that skill?
- “How could I have the time to grade 14 completely different products?” If they create 14 completely different products then the assessment criteria will have to be based on the content knowledge and understanding. There are ways to assess content-specific skills regardless of the medium they use to demonstrate their understanding.
Here are some examples of universal skills (in student language):
- I can use visual design to communicate my message.
- I can publish my content to an audience.
- I can plan my content.
- I can manage my time.
In response I think, “There is no need to underestimate your students!” Let’s remove these four hurtles and instead ask ourselves, how can we allow students to demonstrate their understanding in more meaningful and content creative ways. The students are still providing you with valuable information on where they are in the knowledge to understanding continuum.
These obstacles can be challenging as an Integrationist/Coach when supporting teachers. For many reasons, teachers can find it overwhelming to work through these, so that their students can get to the point of content creation. Teachers often want to use technologies for summative assessments, in spite of the technology being brand new to students. Teachers can be shocked when I occasionally suggest a non tech medium for students to show their understanding, over the need to use new technology. For example, creating a poster is often more appropriate than trying to integrate a new piece of technology in an assessment, especially if the students have not yet learned the tech skills to create something equivalent. To refocus teachers, I might ask, “Is the point of your summative that they learn how to use tech, or that they show you their understanding of the content?” The tech may be appropriate, but it needs to be introduced to students in a timely fashion; so that it can be learned well before it is needed for something as critical as a summative assessment.
Which brings me to the point that students have been creating content long before digital technology was in the classroom. The difference between now and then is that the sheer number of mediums they now have available for the creation of content. Creating a pen and paper poster is creating content in exactly the same way that using Book Creator is creating content. The same design skills are needed. The only difference is the medium and the variety of choices available for how the audience experiences the product. The same amount of time is often given to the skills of creating a good poster as creating a good eBook.
There are an enormous number of standards for elementary classroom teachers to cover and it is easy for teachers to feel overwhelmed and want to say, “But I am not the art teacher. It isn’t my job to teach visual design.” I remember this challenge when I was in the classroom with my own students. Visual design had to become a part of everything that was created. It took time and consistency to establish expectations around visual presentations so that we weren’t always trying to fix a visual disaster after the fact. We talked about guidelines for presentation, such as the need to have a consistent font, or a limited number of fonts, in a single writing piece. We also talked about the reasoning behind this, such as it making it very difficult for anyone new to reading a Latin Alphabet or who struggles with reading, to cope with so many different fonts. This helped them not only to understand the guidelines, but also the reasons behind them for their audience.
One of the ways that I have tried to work through this as a Tech Coach is to keep our content creation apps in the front of people’s minds so they will use them more. Once they use the creation apps a few times they realize that they don’t have to spend so much energy teaching students the skills of the apps. Instead they can concentrate on helping students to plan and understand what is needed in the content of their creation. It is important to help teachers to see that, if they can use one of the apps early on in the year, in something a bit more prescriptive, then by the time they are ready to let students have more voice and choice in their medium, then students are able to see their own possibilities for how these apps can be used.
The role of a Tech Coach is to help teachers to develop an understanding of when to teach a particular skill, and how much time it will take. Asking for help well before the students will need that tool for content creation, allows the coach to guide the teacher through the process of planning the building of the skills that will be needed before projects are begun. This will enable students to focus on the content creation once the task begins, rather than on the tech skills needed. It is a common issue that people often don’t know what they don’t know. They might not realize that they needed to build skills before they planned a summative task. This is where timely professional development can help teachers to see which skills apps they will need.
It is worth the time and the effort to give students the skills to grow into good content creators. We have all watched badly created content. We all know what to avoid. Imagine what it would be like if good content creation was systematically introduced in school to the point where it became a natural extension of their skills like pen and pencils?
You can find more from Kim on this topic in her blog post The Power of Audience.
Thank you to my post editors: Jen and Beth