Saturday, October 01, 2005

SETT: Ewan McIntosh - Young, gifted and blogged

There are loads of things I've been meaning to do a blog entry on but the promised reports from SETT have been hanging over me all week. I've decided to do turn about; starting with the first report from SETT.

I made the mistake on the Thursday morning of going into Jordanhill first. This meant that I arrived at SETT just in time to be five minutes late for Ewan's session on Using ICT as a means of supporting the gifted in language. (Sorry Ewan.) If you want to see how I got on with my new Palm keyboard, I have posted the unedited text file. Sections in curly brackets, {}, are my comments and thoughts triggered by what Ewan said. Most of the mistakes are down to my own poor typing rather than problems with the keyboard. The only problem coming from the keyboard is that only one key at a time can be pressed. To get capitals, you have to tap shift and then the letter you want capitalised. I kept forgetting and pressed the two at once - so often the first letter in a sentence is omitted!

I said in a previous post how scunnered I was to have missed the first day of SETT, but Lesley Duff replied to say that a podcast for most of the sessions would be released over the next few weeks, so you will be able to compare the notes I made at the time to what Ewan actually said! I chose however to type this up from my notes without listening again. Let me know if you think I've missed something or misinterpreted him in some way.

The recurring theme of Ewan's talk was "Raising the bar".

Firstly, Ewan described the aims of his action research as:
  • Increased motivation
  • Increased language acquisition and Information Literacy
  • Increased language retention
The first two (at least) are often claimed for the use of ICT generally. It was interesting to hear Ewan's thoughts on how this worked out in the teaching of Modern Languages in particular.

He claimed that already many (most?) children already have their own web pages. They are already communicating through the web. Certainly a report I saw from the London School of Economics suggests that 75% of 9-19 year olds have accessed the Internet from home and 84% are daily or weekly users. Ewan said that, "We are guided by interactions and experiences," so the question is how do schools build on the former experience of these digital natives?

Ewan then went on to ask how we define gifted? He said that it can't be determined by summative tests of knowledge; these, he suggested, merely set a bar, a limit on how high we expect the children to reach.

He went on to talk about an approach that was new to me - Freeman's Sports Approach: Children opt in to extra more demanding work. There is no entrance test. No summative entry test. No limit on the standard they can reach. I especially liked the "opting for more demanding work" bit! In an effort to make learning accessible to all, I think that sometimes we remove the challenge and therefore often remove the fun! Death by a thousand worksheets - and all the worksheets teach is how to follow instructions.

Motivation and learning. Ewan continued by talking about how tests may prove competence but can be very demoralising. Self and peer assessment however he says is empowering. Ewan uses a hundred point scale in his class - lose a point for every letter wrong - pupils mark each others work. He said that this allows pupils to think like an examiner - I liked that. A summative test limits what will be learned - back to his bar again!

Learning logs - pupils reflecting on what they have learned how to do. It also allows them to set own aims. Can be very vague, but information literacy means justifying your statements. Ewan gave a good example which I didn't write down about how a vague and woolly statement from a pupil actually shows some insight into the learning process - I'll need to listen to the podcast to hear again what he said. The learning logs idea was then linked to the next session of his talk: Social Technology. He described how this
  • shows intelligence linked to knowledge and manners
  • encourages conversation to construct knowledge
He described how in a blog, if you state a fact and give your interpretation, others can challenge and help you construct your knowledge because you need to justify and expand. Collaborative learning. Do weblog links to Freeman's Sports Approach? The web generally is passive - one way. It sets a limit on the bar. However weblogs create a social group. It creates and supports conversations. He said, "It's not about the cliques: it's about the comments". Who you are is less important than what you say. I've read Ewan saying things like this before on his blog (I think) but it was good to hear him explain and show us what he meant.

He closed his session with that last refuge of the scoundrel - statistics! {NB This section updated thanks to information direct from the horses mouth in a comment on this post from Ewan.} I may have mis-heard or mis-recorded some of these, but it was a powerful illustration of the audience that his pupils at Musselburgh Grammar have built up in a very short time. Musselburgh Grammar School Online had 160,000 page views in a school year (eight months), 8000 people subscribed to the podcasts and 400 comments were left (including comments from the head teacher) in the space of a seven day school trip abroad. Also, a five week project generated 380 posts from one of his classes. {I wonder how much writing a similar project would have produced, or how many people would have been involved in a school trip if blogging technology ad not been used?}

He closed by pointing out that the technology that allows this to happen is cheap even free in some cases. In using it, children learn the importance of behaving with responsibility. You can't just use others work. You have to back it up.

My closing thoughts: The technology is out there. As Ewan pointed out, MSN Spaces, largely populated by teenagers, experienced a 957%(?) growth in a year. Our children are already using it, even as we try to stop them doing so in our schools! (See for example one of my recent posts commenting on something David Warlick said.) Rather than trying to limit technology use, let's work to promote it and help children to use it responsibly.

Raise the bar? Or get rid of the bar altogether?

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Ewan McIntosh said...

Thanks for the write-up. It's pretty much spot on! The stats are something I hate, but they do provide impact for those who thought what I was saying might be unpractical in school. Difficult to write down, too, as I went through them kind of quick:

160,000 views in one school session (8 mths)
8000 people subscribe to the the mgsPodcast
400 comments in 7 days of a school trip abroad
380 posts made by students in a five-week project.

Mind you, the stats you gave were far more impressive!

I'll put the Keynote show on my blog ASAP. Thew research with justifications is being posted chapter by chapter on the blog at the moment.

OK if I link to your great round-up, though?

David said...

Pretty much spot on :-)

Thanks for the vote of confidence. It's always a bit of a worry wondering if what you think someone said is what they thought they were saying.

I've updated the stats now, but credit where credits due - I basically had the numbers right, it was mostly the time periods I messed up. That's got to be worth at least 50% in any summative test. :-)

I hope to get around to commenting on your chapters soon, but I wouldn't hold your breath. A comment on your bibliography though will follow shortly.

The "raising the bar" bit (a sports metaphor I assume) made more of an impact on me that I think comes out in my write up, but feel free to link to my round-up. If you're happy with it, I'm more than happy for you to point others to it.