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e-Buddy programme summary

Summary: the Cluster for Higher Learning e-buddy programme

Context: Over the past three years the Cluster for Higher Learning has extended the benefits of peer tutoring across four geographically distant schools.  The schools are deemed by most as being remove but with similar multi-level structures. Tiniroto, Motu and Waipaoa Station school are sole charge with new entrant students learning alongside year 8 students and located approximately 1hr from town.  Waerenga-O-Kuri school is also multi-level but has two groups year 1-4 and 5-8 with two teachers.  There are many benefits to being such small schools but one of the major disadvantages for students is lack of similar age and stage peers, the e-buddy programme was developed to maximize learning and social interaction without the parameters of travel.

Focus: Teachers initially buddied up students with similar learning abilities considering age and gender where possible.  Students met face to face and enjoyed a variety of ice-breaking type activities and games to get to know each other, this has proved very successful and popular and we continue to include something at each face to face hui to ensure buddies are relaxed and developing/maintaining a social bond.  The second phase involved students specifically focused on a curriculum goal/task and co-constructing the expectations and success criteria through the use of google doc’s.

Year 1-3 programmeThe junior students have had a consistent focus on oral language.  We have used two main tools to support this, the first (and probably most popular) has been Skype.  Students decided on the protocols eg how they would establish who was going first, and the sorts of appropriate responses using the success criteria they has established together.  It was quickly realized that timing was important and some ‘chat’ time was included at the start with key questions such as ‘how are you today? Etc

The Skyping remains extremely popular today although it has come with its issues.  Connection speed is often inconsistent meaning that student viewing is often stilted of fuzzy, there have been many issues; equipment not functioning as expected and timing continues to be important.  Teachers need to be very organized to ensure students are well prepared when then slot arrives and sometimes a timely reminder phone call is necessary to jog busy classroom teachers memory.

The second tool the juniors have successfully used is VoiceThread.  This tool was introduced to illuminate the timing issues.  Teachers and students can log in and complete their oral language practice at a time that suits their programme however it doesn’t create the bonding and joy of learning in real-time with your buddy.  It is also difficult for peers to give feedback and feed forward to support the learning.  In recent terms we have used a combination of both; with the Skyping programme taking place every three weeks and the Voicethread more regularly.

Year 4-8 Programme: Senior students have mostly used email to communicate with their buddies, however when they do get an opportunity to Skype it becomes a real highlight.  With this in mind we trialed Skype as our communication tool when our learning was around giving effective speeches.  Students enjoyed this along-side using email of their written speech for e-buddies to give specific feed forward.  The Skyping was fun but posed major organizational issues in the classroom to be successful, it was only used through one term as a focus and a return to the written welcomed by staff.

The written programme has been similar to the junior Skype; students co-construct the success criteria after investigating the learning intention.  Models are provided in the planning to allow teachers in different classes to expose students to a variety of possibilities (both good and bad), and always includes some exemplars allowing students to see the learning progression and set goals. This generally stimulates their thinking and motivation so that they can actively participate in the co-construction of best practice.  The Success Criteria remains a live document so that modification’s and new idea’s or rules can be added, however teachers are encouraged to print the Success Criteria allowing students to have a copy to give effective feedback and feed forward.  DAT’s around giving effective feedback and feed forward were initially quite significant and still remain a focus for many students.  We initially stated that they were required to give 3 feedbacks and 3 feed forwards directly off the Success Criteria, however as students have become more accomplished at giving effective and appropriate responses this is often relaxed.  

Using the ‘comment’ feature on MS word, students and teachers are easily able to identify the specific part of the text being referred to and then using the language modeled in the Success Criteria and by their teachers, students are able to give high quality assessment advice to their peers.

The focus of the e-buddy programme has been on the crafting of text therefore there hasn’t been a cluster-wide publishing stage however in schools the final important stage hasn’t been forgotten with students publishing to their school library shelves, e-portfolio’s and show case wiki’s.

Next steps: The Higher Learning Cluster has successfully overcome the barriers of distance to enhance and allow for high quality peer tutoring.  Hon. Anne Tolley was extremely impressed when she visited and has used us as an example of best practice in her opening address to the national U-learn conference and again recently in her article in the Education Review.  We are extremely proud of the programme and it has been deemed a huge success both by whanau, students and teachers alike.  Our challenge as an exiting ICTPD Cluster will be to maintain the bonds established to ensure high quality learning programmes for all our students.

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