May 20, 2013

Learning Online in the Second Grade: Teacher Linda Yollis

Categories: Digital Learning, Educational Practice
group of kids sitting around classroom computer working together

Blogging, commenting thoughtfully on others’ blogs, staying safe online, creating a positive digital footprint, using audio and video to connect with students in other parts of the world, creating and publishing video – at what grade level should students be introduced to these essential digital literacies? How about the second grade? Linda Yollis, a teacher in Los Angeles’ San Fernando Valley, remembers the classroom in which she started teaching in the 1980s: “Learning was confined to the four walls of the classroom, was entirely paper-based, worksheet-driven, and I was the audience for most of the written work in this classroom; parents found out what was going on by reading the newsletter that I would send out and maybe by looking at the graded projects their children took home. All of the learning took place between eight and three. I had a very closed classroom. That all changed in 2008 when I started blogging. Having a class blog has flattened the walls of this classroom. Now we have an online space where students, parents, and other classrooms all over the world can come together in an online learning community.”

Mrs. Yollis not only teaches her second-graders to blog (some of whom came into her class with blogging experience from Mrs. Levy’s first grade blog), she teaches them – and her students make videos to teach others – about raising the level of online discourse through quality blog comments. Take a look at Mrs. Yollis’ introduction to blog commenting and ask yourself whether the online commons could become a much better place in a few years if more second graders were introduced to online discourse in this way. She even introduced a rubric for blog comments that eight year olds can understand: “A one-point comment is a general comment that doesn’t add very much to the post. Example: I like your blog. Please visit mine! A two-point comment adds something to the comment conversation. A commenter might compliment the writer in a specific way or add new information. Another idea is to make a connection. Maybe the post reminds you of an experience that you’ve had. Share that connection! Try to end your comment with a relevant question. That way, an interesting conversation can develop.”

If you think this kind of higher-level thinking and digital skills are unrealistic goals for such young students, you can judge for yourself by inspecting the results: Here is the teacher’s blog post about making “reasonable estimates” and the comment dialogue among her students that followed, in which each student challenged others to try an estimate. Of course, nobody expects second graders to be expert typists. I asked Mrs. Yollis, who told me that she encouraged students to dictate to her in class or to parents at home: “I tell parents to let grammatical and spelling errors stand so I can direct students in correcting them.”

Before 2008, contact with parents was through their students’ grades, written comments on their work, and a newsletter. Now, parents and grandparents participate in “family blogging month.” Mrs. Yollis models the kind of sharing she asks of her students, making videos about the benefits of blogging with young children and publishing what she learns and finds on her educational blogging wiki. I couldn’t wait to talk with her. Watch this short video interview to experience her enthusiasm – and expertise – directly.

Banner image credit: Photo by Shayna, Mrs. Yollis’ Classroom Blog