Over the past few months, I’ve worked on two major projects with several of our fourth grade classes: Books Go Global! and the 1001 Flat World Tales project. I absolutely loved working with fourth grade and it was especially interesting to do the 1001 Tales project for the second time with such a different age group (last year I worked with seventh grade).

Overall, I am so impressed at the quality of work that our fourth graders have done, and just how much they are capable of doing on their own. Not only did we have these entire classes completing fairly intense, thoughtful projects, but we had smaller groups in each class going above and beyond expectations working on enhancing the entire class’ work – like creating an overarching story linking all 60 individual student stories together!

Our 1001 Tales students shared some great learnings with me at the end of their project:

The class really enjoyed:

  • meeting other students and making friends
  • typing on the computer instead of handwriting
  • being able to put multimedia elements into their story – especially not having to waste paper to print pictures

They learned:

  • How to make friends and be polite when working in an online environment
  • How to behave appropriately online – from the videos we watched
  • More about the writing process – how to write good paragraphs, revise writing, give comments, and improve our work
  • How to do lots of cool time-saving things on the computer – right click, apple shortcuts
  • How to make a wikispace – linking, adding pictures, editing text

And they reflected:

  • Even though some of us didn’t like having other people see our writing before it was finished, we all agreed that our writing was better due to the collaborative process
  • Although some of the technical tasks took quite a few steps, we now feel really confident that we can do these things even easier and better next time around

Their class teacher shared some feedback with me as well:

  • Students learned so much about the writing process – revising, writing, editing, authorship.
  • Students learned so much about working with collaborative technology – communicating online, behavior and attitude online.
  • Not enough emphasis on persuasive writing – we should have added the essential questions right on our group page and had a checklist for persuasive writing quality to self-check after their first draft and a link with all the essential qualities of a good persuasive essay linked right to the group page because students were reluctant to use the paper handouts once they started working with the laptops.
  • Because this was the first time for them, the computers became more of the focus – it would be better to do something smaller at the beginning of the year, use the tool lightly throughout the year, and then use it big time towards the end.
  • There is good connection with this and a blog – a blog would be a good beginning to the year and it can grow into a wiki. Would be great to start with a class wiki at the beginning of the year, have the kids do an about me page, use it all year as a presentation tool (little bits here and there) and then do the final project at the end.
  • Would have been nice to use the wiki for a short intro assignment at the beginning for persuasive writing – maybe a quick add or something that uses the language of persuasive writing to help emphasize the connection between writing on the wiki and this focus on persuasive writing.

These were really important conversations for me. Sometimes I get so wrapped up in the final product, I forget to go back and reflect on the process. Having had previous experience with this specific project, I think I was able to coordinate the actual completion of each task relatively easily, but having fewer struggles with the collaboration now allows me to really focus on making sure the content and the pedagogical focus is at the forefront of student learning.

There are so many pieces to global collaborations that often times, the effort it takes to get all those schedules and structures in place can end up taking most of my time. This is a really important reminder for me to get all the planning done first, then step back and take a look at the curricular needs with fresh eyes, to make sure that once we get going, we’re going in the right direction.

Another interesting learning for me, is that even though these globally collaborative projects are all similar in their goals (connecting students through networked learning), it seems to take at least one completion of each project all the way through to really understand how to properly structure it. Every project is different enough that you have to actually work through the kinks in each one to really make the most out of it. Although I’ve learned so much from previous global collaborations, I still made plenty of mistakes in setting up the Books Go Global! project.

Here are a few things I learned from this time around:

  • When setting up an ongoing project, make sure that you structure groups or workshops to complete the project on the same timeline. Not everyone has to be doing the project at the same time, but assuming that you’re looking for interaction, you want to make sure that it’s actually scheduled in, in advance. Otherwise you’ll be left with classes completing the project on their own or out of sync with the other groups.
  • Try to sort the groups based on curricular goals so that the creation of common rubrics is easier (common rubrics make it so much easier for students to peer evaluate).
  • Whatever tool you’re using (in this case we used a wiki), make sure that you plan for the easiest input of data as well as the easiest output. This time around I focused on making the final product the easiest to look through and review, but it ended up causing lots of frustration when we were all trying to edit the same wiki page at the same time.
  • And, duh, along those lines, never make one central page to embed objects in a wiki. Make separate pages for each class or group. That way only the members of that class or group would be likely to edit out another student’s work.
  • If you plan to have students from all the various schools working in one space, try to come up with common page naming practices (for example if all of the students in every class will be making multiple wiki pages, have them all use the school initials in their page names). This makes finding and linking pages so much easier.
  • Especially for elementary students, find the easiest way to complete a task by testing out multiple ways with several students and then use that as your standard.
  • Especially for elementary students, have each student write down their username and password in a safe place for future reference (and I usually keep a copy of all usernames and e-mail addresses on a spreadsheet in my files as well).

Sometimes I just wish I could just follow my own advice ;) What else would you add to this list?

All in all, both of these projects were so much fun, and I truly appreciate the opportunity to be able to learn from these experiences. I can’t wait for the next major project so I can (hopefully) do an even better job! Please take a look at our outstanding VoiceThread book reviews on Books Go Global! and read our fantastic stories for the alien king on the 1001 Flat World Tales project. The students would love to hear your feedback as well!

Tags: elementary, 21stcentury, globalcollaborationsflatclassroom, collaborations, 1001 Tales, wiki, writing, workshop, persuasive, Books Go Global!, VoiceThread, book reviews,

6 thoughts on “Reflections on Fourth Grade Collaborations

  1. Hey Kim,
    Even though we had some frustration with the project (and some was related to our own sporadic internet access at the very moments we were trying to work on the projects), overall I am really happy we participated. I agree about the scheduling issues. Having common deadline times is important. We’ll try to continue to add comments until the end of our year–for about a month. Thanks for organizing this! I”ll be showing all our LS teaches this Tuesday.

  2. Susan,

    Glad you enjoyed the project in the end. If you have time, I’d love to hear your feedback about how it could have been better – especially if you have some ideas that aren’t already on my list above. I hope to run it again next year, because even with the frustrations, in the end I do think it promoted a love of reading and enthusiasm for books (which was the goal for me).

  3. This is my second year using wikis in the classroom and I’m slowly learning how I want to set up naming conventions for pages and images in projects. On my school wiki for my computer class, I’m starting to use the school year (0708) as the first letters in the file name. In this way, I can do a similar project next year and not overwrite files. On a wiki that I’m sharing with several teachers, this became even more important. I started doing what you suggested, using the school initials with the year for my .jpg that I upload (0708sms). I was not consistent this year as I’m still developing a solid plan. The amount of files that can be generated for one wiki makes it essential.

    I’m in progress on the Middle School Flat Tales project. It’s my first go round, but I can see the importance of mutual dates. I’ve tried to set up a schedule that will work for everyone. It took us a good bit to get going, but I think the plans we set up this year will help us out next year. I’m working with seventh graders myself.

    Thanks for your insight.

  4. Ann,

    Isn’t it amazing how much organization you can devise to make online projects run smoother? There are so many little things you learn the first time around that make a world of difference for future projects. I like your school year filing system – it will be great for projects you plan to run year after year!

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