Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Now More than Ever: Be a Teacher

Let me know if this sounds familiar: A tech-skeptical teacher decides to sally forth into the world of technology and is less than pleased with the outcome of the lesson, and invariably blames the technology on the failure of the lesson. As a result, the teacher retreats back into the comfort of previous teaching methods, and will likely be even more hesitant about trying something new, despite the success of peers.

Ironically, the cause of this usually stems from the skeptical teacher giving technology too much credit, and frequently abandoning teaching methods they would otherwise use in a not-tech setting. Some of the best innovative teachers have learned that the outcomes and pedagogy are the driving force behind the lesson, and that the technology merely supports it. In other words, “Great teachers don’t need technology, but technology needs great teachers.”

Another misconception is that technology becomes a “distraction” and needs to be removed to get kids back “on task.” More often than not, what are perceived as “problems with technology” are really classroom management issues. Below are some examples of actual statements made by teachers along with some positive responses:

How can I do my lesson in class when kids are surfing to all these sites? We need to block more! If you are doing a bit of direct instruction, have kids turn off monitors. If they are still surfing for pleasure instead of working toward your learning targets (I am hoping you articulated the learning targets for them!) perhaps you need to rethink your learning targets. Do the students find the activity relevant? What can they gain by completing the task? Consider including your class on the decisions about what you will accomplish.

Why bother posting assignments on line. Kids just ask for the assignment. My first question is, “Why do you give it to them?” To change behavior and create more of a digital paperless environment, make sure that if you supply information on line, that you give them no other option. Obviously, extenuating circumstances exist, and we would never want to deny students, but those exceptions are few and far between.

These Digital Stories are just glorified slide shows. Most of the creation of TRUE Digital Stories can be done with virtually no technology. Focus more on powerful narration and sharing, selecting appropriate images, and working on the synergy between the story and the pictures. By the way…stay away from programs like Animoto and Stupeflix (Missing hyperlinks intentional).

These discussion boards are artificial…kids wait until the last day and just post whatever. To what is the discussion board leading? Are kids posting simply to receive points? A discussion is as artificial (or authentic) as the questions asked. Do the questions and responses help lead to solving a larger problem or creating meaning? Have you posted the questions to consider or do they start the threads? Did you spend time on forming discussion questions? Have you shown models of great posts?

I hate these wikis. All kids do is copy and paste, there’s no collaboration. Make sure the assignment lend itself to creation as opposed to regurgitation. How big are the groups? Cooperative Learning pedagogy tells us to ensure Individual Accountability the teacher needs to form small groups…say, 3 students, for example. Also, have you designated roles? One of the best way to infuse Positive interdependence is by assigning roles, and focusing on a goal for students. Here’s another idea: instead of the project merely being “turned in” devise a massive “jigsaw” so the information on the projects is something needed by the rest of the class.

These Powerpoints are awful. All kids are doing is reading off the screen…and they’re boring. The first mistake some teachers make is to begin by saying, “This week you are going to do a Powerpoint.” Instead, start with “You are going to prepare a presentation. The prep for a speech or a presentation should be done well ahead of opening Powerpoint. Too often kids (and adults) are so reliant on the Powerpoint that it serves merely as a teleprompter. Remember, speakers: YOU are the focal point, and the Powerpoint helps the audience, not you. The other suggestion is to use the Presentation Zen model, which focuses on the use of images and greatly reducing the amount of text on a the screen.

All kids want to do is go to Youtube. Can you blame them? Aside from the entertainment value more people are realizing what an incredible educational resource Youtube can be. Perhaps you can design a lesson that requires students to search for, or dare I say, create a movie that could benefit peers.

Clearly, a pattern is developing. First, what some people mistakenly view as “tech distractions” are actually classroom management issues. Second, without sound pedagogy, the technology itself takes center stage, and the lesson is reduced to functional literacy of the tool. Great teaching transcends beyond this and uses the tools and application towards attaining a higher goal. Third, students must see relevance in what they are doing. If we can devise those important “compelling why’s” for students, and give them the means to create, and eventually “own” their learning, then we’re on the right track.