The Scribe Post

11/04/2005 04:15:00 pm

About a month ago I wrote about Scribes & Chat, saying I would post again about the impact daily student scribes is having on me and my classes -- this is it. ;-)

The original assignment was simply to post a brief summary of what happened in class each day. A different student is responsible for the daily scribe post and they end their post by choosing the next scribe. The first scribe was a volunteer. My daily involvement is limited to updating a post called The Scribe List which is at the top of the links list in the sidebar of each class's blog. For all three classes this takes less than five minutes of my time each day.

My original goals with this were humble -- my students have really taken control of the process and far and away exceeded my wildest expectations.

My students have spontaneously been challenging each other; each scribe typically tries to outdo what the previous scribe has done -- particularly in the grade 11 class. Compare the first scribe post to a more recent one. (Grade 10: first scribe, recent scribe. Grade 12: first scribe, recent scribe.)

When a student is scribe they take particularly good class notes and think deeply about what they learned that day. The process of writing their scribe (we've created a new use for that noun) forces them to reflect on their learning and work to articulate the lesson as though they were teaching it. The paradigm in medical school is "watch it, do it, teach it." My students have brought that paradigm into our classes. Students have told me that they spend upwards of an hour composing their scribe post -- that's a lot of deep thinking to do for just one class! Since the work is distributed across the entire class I guess they're more willing to invest a lot of time once every few weeks -- they all come out ahead this way.

They take real pride in their scribes and want it to look good and impress their classmates. I've told them numerous times how they've blown me away, or in my vernacular, "knocked my socks off!" -- I finally had to admit in one comment that I no longer had any socks. ;-)

There have been tremendous benefits to me as well. I've become a better teacher. I know that someone is going to write about what I do in class each day -- I had better make certain that they have material to work with! ;-) The scribe posts have allowed me to see how and where students are struggling with the material. Face-to-face, some students say they don't understand anything from a particular lesson. But when they have to scribe that class we both learn they understand a lot more than they thought they did. This has allowed me to provide detailed and focused feedback to a student to: (a) help them learn and (b) give their self-esteem a boost because I can honestly say they have a better grasp of the material than they thought. Contrast this to the typical oral feedback I get from underconfident students: "I don't understand any of it."

The scribe post has also resulted in students taking greater responsibility for their own education. When the scribe is late getting their post up comments begin to appear in the chatbox; "When is the scribe going to post? Where's the scribe?" Part of this is because the only way for a student to find out if they are resposible for the next day's scribe is by reading the blog -- it's never announced in class. But the scribe tends to "feel bad" if they don't get the post up in a timely fashion and they frequently include an appology to the class to that effect. Recently, one student had computer trouble and didn't get his post up. He came to me, of his own volition, the next day and said "Mr. K. I'm sorry about not getting my scribe up so I'll do yesterday and today because it wouldn't be fair to assign a scribe at the last minute in class today." In my grade 12 class a scribe was uncertain of whether or not they should scribe a class because they "got in trouble" that day. The students arranged between them, outside of class, who would be the scribe each day for the next week! Missing a scribe post isn't an option because the whole class is waiting for it; they have expectations of each other and they are rising to the occasion.

Of course, one of the most obvious benefits is that any student who misses class can easily find out what they missed -- now they even get a complete, student generated, online lesson! This has also made things easier for me when a student is sick for a couple of days or is away from school for any other reason -- all their classes are in the web log. Also, anyone who didn't follow what was taught in class gets another student's perspective on it and can get even more help in the chatbox.

Recently I was explaining to another teacher how the scribe post works in my classes. I heard myself say, without realizing it, "The students are writing the textbook for the course together; one day at a time."

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