DEC Scan Journal : November 2011
Scan Vol 30 No 4 November 2011 29 from other educators, the wider school community, and members of the general public, appear as cumulative comments on the students' uploaded slideshows; this online feedback is ongoing. Endangered animals: beyond the rainforest The initial lessons in the library were planned to complement in-class work and to empower the students to be able to define rainforests. Lists of suitable YouTube video clips – most of them highly persuasive, strongly captioned, visual texts – were hyper- linked from our newly-created Edublogs site, and played to each class on an interactive whiteboard (IWB). I harvested the most effective clips and created a proforma, to scaffold each group’s verbal and written responses. At the suggestion of the class teachers, students began the unit in teacher- selected groups to analyse these clips. As the teachers investigated a few rainforest-located endangered animals in class, lessons in the library went beyond the rainforest, to encourage less- able students to choose from a range of more familiar animals, and to use their in-class information as additional research support. A summarising Plus, minus, interesting (PMI) matrix gave structure to the students’ group findings, and this information formed a basis for the jointly-constructed welcome messages on the blog. The students seemed to find the short, pithy, information rich clips to be informative, entertaining and poten- tially useful. Linking the clips from the blog placed all of these online resources into one accessible location, and enabled other schools to track our learning or to join in themselves. At every opportunity, explicit strate- gies for deconstructing persuasive texts were highlighted. Forewarned of the traps analysed in Ban those bird units! (Loertsche, Koechlin & Zwaan, 2004), the teachers progressed the students to research chosen animals as individuals. In only a few cases, students were found to be surrepti- tiously working in pairs, and this suggested strategies for forming new groups when storyboarding the final products. Unfortunately, by not setting a restricted list on what animals could be chosen, it did become a challenge for the educators to resource certain animals, and to direct students with lower comprehension skills towards those animals upon which more relevant information was obviously available. To encourage students to question the validity of online information they were interpreting, the deliberately manipulative faux website, Save the Pacific northwest tree octopus, managed to keep each class totally engaged to the end of the session. I had deflected the students’ suspicions by getting them to focus on persuasive elements of the site, which again gave them practice at deconstruction strategies. It was an excellent discussion starter. Several weeks further into the research, the teachers and I were feeling that many students' definitions and concepts of rainforest and animal endangerment were still lacking. While initial estimates had the unit reaching completion in early Term 2, preparation time for the mid year student reports had overtaken us. The finished information products were still quite a way off, so the SLIM toolkit responses #1 and # 2, and the students’ scaffolds for fact finding and synthesis, became essential evidence for measuring progress in the achievement of outcomes. On reflection, it would have been valuable to go through these sheets more often with the class teachers to ensure they had more ownership of the whole GI process. Ian McLean’s diary entry: I don’t want another afternoon like last week. The students have mostly completed their information matrixes, but I trudged home that day feeling myself sinking into a terrible depression. Is anything actually getting through? Finding relevant texts that are suitable for students at our lower reading levels is proving to be quite a challenge. One class teacher and I had begun questioning individual students about their chosen endangered animal, and their verbal answers seemingly demonstrated that they still have little idea about what constitutes concepts such as endangered, vulnerable, threatened – or even rainforest. However, on the weekend, when I re-examined their notes from previous weeks, I was startled that some of their recorded dot points were surprisingly comprehensive and written independently. They just weren’t interpreting with facts that signified endangerment; some of the students don’t yet have ownership over the factoids they’ve been recording, certainly not enough to make a convincing argument, oral or written. A gulf is forming for some students – Beware the Dip! Was it going to be possible to split the students into separate groups where everyone could contribute and feel involved? Individual products are not going to be possible in the time left. How do we best support the needier students? Some class teachers are concerned that what I interpret as interventions they see as giving them the answers. It became obvious that additional activities on endangered animals were needed to help the students consoli- date their concepts. A lesson on the extinct dodo (TV series Extinct, 2000), ... explicit strategies for deconstructing persuasive texts were highlighted. ... this information formed a basis for the jointly-constructed welcome messages on the blog.