Guest Blogger: Connie Weber
Just a few weeks ago I started a ning network for my homeroom class of 20 4th and 5th grade students in an independent school in Ann Arbor. The network is absolutely thriving. This is one of the most fascinating things I've every done in my 30 years as an educator. Already the network has become an extension of who we are as a learning community. I've begun thinking of it as nearly a living organism; it's an interactive embodiment of class expressiveness and thinking. It's also a piece of active, participatory artwork that everyone gets to put their marks on. And it's a nest, a comfort zone, a place to call home, a place where you can to try things out and grow.
To begin, I solicited volunteers to be administrators. I chose four students who along with me would watch over the workings of things. We talked about our goals: get everyone on the network, make it comfortable and inclusive. Share skills, share skills, share skills. They had everyone on and ready to go within one afternoon. Since then the action has not stopped. It's a 24/7 project, "all systems go."
As the network becomes more and more active, new "job roles" keep appearing. Within the first week one student became "manager of videos," another "podcasting teacher," another "trainer of scanners." I just added an official "moderator" a few days ago, who works with me as encourager and main forum-starter. (She knows her job is to provide examples for others to emulate, as well as to get others started.) Roles seem to present themselves; students look for and assume responsibilities readily. We have troubleshooters, guides, students who take dictation for others, idea-givers for those who are hesitant or blocked, resource-bank managers, "experimentalists."
This new class network is much more powerful than any language-arts program I know, or than any subject-area program. It's about overall learning; it's about being a learning community all together. It's about...well, everything. Some of the things I most value in education are thriving: Empowerment and expressiveness. Good quality communication. Creativity. Learning. Digging-in. Exploring. Questioning. Seeking. I love the way the network is moving, is living. Think of the movement of an amoeba, stretching out long and thin while exploring outwards, then becoming short and fat while concentrating on a particular type of nourishment. It's always shape-shifting. Think of an ant colony sending out "tentacles" of explorers. Think of a creature with marvelous forward-into-the-future "multi-nocular" vision. Student work gets posted, shared, reflected upon.
It's not about the teacher-as-center; it's about all of us sharing and learning as much as we can. I do assignments too, and not only my best work; I model a person who sees learning as a work-in-progress, and let others see my progress. Participation on the network has a feeling of play; it's something the kids (and I) really love doing. We may be in some kind of honeymoon period right now, and I'll bet there will be a lot of stages to go through.
Just wanted to let this community (Ning in Education) know about a small grass-roots start, simple and homey, yet holding infinite potential. I think most of you have a lot more experience than I do, and I'll be very grateful for advice and encouragement as I move along with the children in the evolution of a new kind of homeroom class.
Connie Weber is, obviously, a teacher in Ann Arbor. Not only is she a teacher, but she appears to be an incredibly innovative and enthusiastic teacher.