Crash Course: Differentiation

When a teacher is bored and craving innovation, she creates a FREE, helpful PDF that is chockful of resources, pre–researched for you!

While the PDF primarily explains differentiating through content, process, and product, though resources provided show a deeper level of differentiated instructional strategies for your pedagogical pleasure. What’s more? Oodles of clickable links to help you exercise that pointer finger while watching the Olympics!

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Enjoy!

Ochwoman

Encouraging Pedagogical Partnerships

Rumors have been whispered; some which are much too loud betray that with advancements in technology, we won’t need teachers anymore! I say, however, that NO technology can replace the creative minds of teachers and students working together, the pedagogy behind the lessons and on-the-spot interactions that only teachers, students, and human beings can have with one another.

As Melinda Gates said at Duke University’s Commencement Address in 2013, “Technology is just a tool. It’s a powerful tool, but it’s just a tool. Deep human connection is very different. It’s not a tool…It is the end – the purpose and the result of a meaningful life.” (Fullan, 2014) Gates did not say this with teachers exclusively in mind, but it does feel specifically significant to me as an educator.

Kalantzis and Cope (2010) discuss the future of new learning: “Teachers and learners will be able to make meaningful choices about what and how they learn in order to meet new higher standards of performance.” But I ask this: can’t we engage in these practices now? Technology aside, teachers and students can join together in pedagogical partnerships, which are “equal two-way learning partnership[s] between and among students and teachers.” (Fullan, 2013)

Fullan (2014) narrates interviews with teachers, citing findings that students today are no longer complacent, accepting of didactic pedagogy, but rather skeptical of it. “Young people are now digitally connected to overwhelming amounts of information and ideas,” which makes them desire more of there education.

Now, this makes for a beautiful story, but I will be the first classroom teacher to say that this is not the whole story. Not all students are on their devices during class because they are in silent protest of the teacher’s traditional pedagogy. Some are trying to be social, some are just plain bored, and some just want to beat their high score in [Insert trendy game app that’s all the rage today].

With all this partnership talk, I’ve thought about 5 real, practical ways that I have successfully engaged my students in a pedagogical partnership with me in the past school year:

  1. Reflect on learning outcomes for the day by asking questions like: “Are these short-term goals or long-term goals? Why do you think that?” This can happen at the beginning of a lesson, the end, or both!
  2. Ask students to “Put it in your own words.” Even if it’s just directions you’ve read aloud, there is power in asking a seventh grader to put them in his or her own words for the class. Often times, lagging learners or spacey students will better key in to what and how a peer says something.
  3. Let the students teach. Every once in a while, I like to let a small group of students teach the class for an activity. The slides are ready, I let them know what the goal is, and I sit back and participate as a student. This lets me observe the class, while letting eager students take a leadership role. I get to see studets develop communication skills and utilize various classroom management strategies. Students get to see each other in a different light. For teachers and students, I deem this a win-win situation.

    See the full graphic organizer at: http://goo.gl/0MOyGs

    See the full graphic organizer at: http://goo.gl/0MOyGs

  4. Allow students time to reflect on lessons at the end of each day, individually and collectively. Individually, students complete a graphic organizer, which asks them about their confidence in their ability to [insert learning outcome] and perhaps write about the strengths they exhibited that day & something they can improve the next day. Collectively, students may have to come up with a sentence or hashtag, which sums up what we learned that day (to appear as a Class Chat update).
  5. Ask questions of your students. Listen to their answers. Keep the personal relationship aspect of teaching alive. This is perhaps the most significant strategy teachers can utilize. Whether having a one-on-one conversation with a student for 30 seconds, or asking students to reflect on a question in their journals, which you will respond to later, valuing your students’ thoughts holds so much power.

The moment that teachers bow down to technology as the omnipotent educator is the moment students may decide She won’t know the answer, or He won’t care what I think, or She’ll think I’m stupid if I ask that. Change students’ thoughts, opinion, interactions, and reactions. If you engage students in a pedagogical partnership, their inner-talk may transform: I don’t know the answer, but she can help me figure it out, or He always cares what I think, or I bet someone else is wondering this, so I’ll ask. Talk, listen, and above all: keep trying new things.

References:

Fullan, Michael, & Langworthy, Maria. (2014). “A Rich Seam: How New Pedagogies Find Deep Learning.” Pearson. Retrieved from http://www.michaelfullan.ca/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/3897.Rich_Seam_web.pdf.

Fullan, Michael, & Langworthy, Maria. (2013). “Towards a New End: New Pedagogies for Deep Learning.” Collaborative Impact. Retrieved from http://redglobal.edu.uy/wp-content/uploads/2014/07/New_Pedagogies_for_Deep-Learning_Whitepaper1.pdf.

Kalantzis, Mary, & Cope, Bill. (2010). “The Teacher as Designer: pedagogy in the new media age.” E–Learning and Digital Media, Volume 7, Number 3. Retrieved from http://newlearningonline.com/_uploads/3_Kalantzis_ELEA_7_3_web.pdf.

Lessons on Lagging Laptops & Laryngitis

“Come on, slow computer! Hurry up!” a student announces, as she watches the gray spinning wheel on her screen, indicating that the page is still, roughly 30 seconds later, loading. This anxious announcement is not uncommon among the computer labs at our middle school. In fact, this sore sentiment is so shared among students that we decided to conduct a scientific experiment:

What is the average time it takes for computers to turn on, log on, and load one internet page?

Before we disclose our shocking answer, let’s delve into some details about our class and computers. As of today, November 13, 2014, my students have spent a lot of time using laptops at our school in English class, both in stationary computer labs and in class with mobile computer carts. They are well-acquainted with login procedures, how to use Google Apps for Education, and now–with Google Classroom. This is a far cry from last year, where I found that a large majority of my students were unaware of the BYOD policy in place at our school. This year, we are now in a place where my students can successfully log on and work in Google Classroom without verbal instructions, which comes in handy now that I have had laryngitis for 12 days. (Teaching with laryngitis is a curse I would not wish upon even my worst enemy, but with Google Classroom, it is possible.) While I have had to explicitly teach how to use the technology (shortcuts for copy & paste, how to print a document, what a hyperlink is…) before my students do any Language Arts content area work with technology, I believe this teaching has laid the groundwork for successful lessons on laryngitis and for future lessons in class and in life.

This sounds perfect on the page, but there are many obstacles sprouting up like stubborn weeds in our path beyond just this lingering laryngitis. Our middle school serves (at last count) 1,067 seventh and eighth grade students. The technology program provided for our students is as follows:

  • Bring Your Own Device Program (Students, if they have and can afford a device, may bring a device to school to use at teacher discretion.)
  • Stationary Computer Labs (We have 6 computer labs, 2 with 15 computers and 4 with 28 computers. Teachers sign up for locations by date via Google docs.)
  • Mobile Computer Labs (We have 11 mobile computer labs: 9 labs with 16 computers, 1 lab with 10 computers, and 1 lab with 8 computers. Teachers also sign up for carts by date via Google docs.) (Source: ochwoman.weebly.com)

That means, if all computers are functioning properly and not under maintenance with tech support staff, we have 304 computers to support 1,067 students. At any one time, technology is only available for 28% of our student population.

Now, add to the equation some unavoidable realities:

  • Some computers shut down without warning.
  • Some computers are being serviced by tech staff.
  • Some computers do not have “logon servers,” which means a RequestIT ticket must be submitted since the computer is not usable.
  • Mobile labs cannot be used for two full periods in a row, as computer batteries die quickly.
  • Lastly, some computers are so slow to load browsers and documents, it eats away at learning time.

Our bell schedule runs on block days Monday through Thursday, when we see classes on alternating days for approximately 90 minutes. We have a neutral day on Fridays, where we see all classes for shorter periods of time, approximately 44 minutes. To make the most of this time, I usually sign up my classes for labs on block days, so that most of our time is used for learning, aided by technology.

bell_schedule

 

What does a daily lesson plan look like with computers?

  1. LINK: Students complete a warm up related to the learning target for the day, as they wait for their computers to log on. We go over the warm up as a class.
  2. ENGAGE: Students log on to Google Classroom to view the announcement (a task list) and the assignment for the day.
  3. ACTIVE LEARNING: Students will begin working on a group activity together to encourage participation. Students will  then work on an individual assignment to show mastery of the learning target.
  4. REFLECT: Finally, students reflect on the day, completing an exit ticket usually by commenting on high-level critical thinking questions on Google Classroom.
  5. NOW & THEN: Reflection questions tie in to previous and future concepts, helping students to connect to content, making it relevant to their lives.
This is a snapshot of a Google doc assignment for one of my classes. Lesson #1 on Laryngitis

This is a snapshot of a Google doc assignment for one of my classes. Lesson #1 on Laryngitis

This sounds like a great lesson in theory, and in a utopic world, all students would be engaged in learning for the entire duration of class. However, this is where today’s realities kick in, and yes, we are now going to answer:

What is the average time it takes for computers to turn on, log on, and load one internet page?

Students were instructed to turn on their computers at the same time, log on, click Google Chrome, and log in to Google Classroom. When this internet page loaded, they were to say, “Now!” I noted the time and computer number for each student in a spreadsheet.

spreadsheet

Nineteen students were in attendance for this class experiment. The fastest startup time for a student’s computer was 3 minutes and 25 seconds. This sounds quite reasonable.  The next student’s computer took 6 minutes, and the third student’s chimed in shortly after at 6 minutes and 10 seconds.

The average, however, is much more grim.

 

The average startup time for computers was 10 minutes and 56 seconds.

 

Now, add in the fact that the slowest computer took 21 minutes and 39 seconds, and that four students had to switch computers due to unexpected shutdowns; the utopic lesson crumbles to rubble.

Yes, my students and I are thankful to have access to technology.

Yes, we find ways to work around issues by switching computers, sharing computers, and using our personal devices.

Yes, we are flexible, adaptable, and resilient in the face of adversity.

But, is this the best way to teach my students these admirable qualities and life skills? Sure, the student whose computer took 21:39 to start up was able to read her class novel and work on a review packet while waiting, but this was not the intention of the day’s lesson. Further, even when her computer loaded, her internet browser’s sloth-like speed made it completely impractical to actually complete work. She ended up working with the student next to her, sharing a computer instead.

My students are missing out on so many collaboration possibilities and problem-solving discoveries because of lag time. My students and I are waiting for the day that our large school district’s budget allows for new technology to be purchased, but in our school district, which serves more than 180,000 students, “equal opportunity for all” politics rule. If all schools can’t get it, no one gets it. Everyone will be provided the same opportunities. With all the budget cuts of late, it seems new technology will continue drifting further down on the To Do list. In the mean time, my students, my school, other schools in our school district, and schools across the nation will continue waiting for a solution, just as we wait for our laptops to log on and load our learning.

Dear Google, Apple, DELL, IBM, or any computer company with a conscience,

You have the power to change the meaning of equal opportunity in education.

Will you work with schools to provide the resources that your future employees and consumers will use daily? Will you support 21st century learners, who will become the critical thinkers, problem solvers, and flexible, fearless leaders of tomorrow? Will you be the answer to our endlessly loading, spinning wheels and frequently failing computers?

I challenge you to answer truthfully with politics, public relations, and pride aside: Will you fight for our future?

 

State of Education Report: 2024

*The following is a fictional, projected report on the state of education in the United States in 2024 for a graduate course at the University of Illinois.*

The trilling notes wake Asami from his deep sleep. With his pointer finger, he swipes his smartphone screen to turn off his alarm. He pushes himself up onto his elbows and looks out the window. The sun is already up, streaming through the half-open blinds.

It is 8:30 a.m. on Friday, Asami’s last day of school this week. He has planned to let the dog outside and eat a bowl of cereal before class. Taking Gus outside chews up ten minutes of time before Asami pours himself a bowl of cinnamon cereal. His parents are heading out the door to work, and he yawns as he tells them, “Have a good day!”

It is 8:45 a.m. Asami watches a comedy news show he’d been hoping to watch earlier in the week, and giggles between spoonfuls. An ad flashes onto the screen, and he checks the time.

It is 8:55 a.m. Asami picks up his laptop and signs in to his class portal. The screen shows him today’s assignments and discussions to complete. Asami is enrolled in six 11th grade level courses. Overall for today, he sees he has three assignments: English, Japanese, and Technology Education. He has two synchronous discussions, and two discussion boards to post and comment on. It may seem like a lot, but his class portal has discussion times all laid out for him with event reminders. Further, he is familiarized with this class portal system as he was first acclimated in 9th grade. He sees that his World History course has a synchronous discussion beginning at 9:00 a.m. so he clicks the link with a minute to spare.

It is 9:00 a.m. The class facilitator welcomes students to class, directs students to the question of the day, and shares a video on the screen. Asami looks up a quote he can’t quite remember, but which will aid him immensely in the discussion after the video. He copies the link, and prepares to share it in the class chat box, with a helpful flowchart he stumbled upon as well.

This is Asami’s Friday morning. It is also the average Friday morning, a telecommuting day, for many United States public school students today.

The Three Phase Plan to Technology Integration Across America

Federal, state, and local governments have worked with companies to ensure that all public and private schools have a one-to-one ratio of student to information and communication technologies (ICT). The nation is in the first of three phases of integrating technology within schools and communities, ensuring that all homes (with children attending school) are installed with wireless routers and an ICT device by 2030. The phases, as outlined in the original report, are quoted below:

Phase One: Deadline 2020

  • Pilot schools will work to integrate technology within schools and communities, specifically providing a wireless router to every home with a child attending school. Wireless routers will maintain the same security and privacy measures as in school.
  • A laptop, or other comparable ICT device, will be provided to a families who demonstrate financial need.
  • Homework and assignments will be accessible online throughout the week, though students and teachers will meet in schools four days a week. Students and teachers will telecommute once a week to pilot online class sessions and to evaluate cost savings potential for the school.

Phase Two: Deadline 2025

  • The program will broaden to include more pilot schools across the nation and will enact the same plan, installing wireless routers and ICT devices in homes.
  • Through an application and observation process, students who show strong independent study skills can replace one or more of their in-school courses with online courses, which allow students to complete all work for that course online. Students will still be required to physically come to school for a set amount of hours a week for other non-online courses.

Phase Three: Deadline 2030

  • The program will be offered to every public school in the United States, and while schools may opt out, wireless routers and ICT devices (one per home, by financial need basis) will be provided for every home with a child in school to facilitate parent-teacher communication and student-teacher expectation transparency.
  • Every school will operate on a five day school schedule, with at least one of those days as a telecommuting day for teachers and students.
  • Online courses will be offered to build time management and independent study skills in students who show strong motivation and responsibility

The Theory Behind The Three Phase Plan

Expectations in the workplace have revolutionized with the ever-changing tide of technology. As such, the landscape of education has also evolutionized, growing up from traditional classrooms necessitated from the Industrial Revolution and into the more progressive classrooms of the Age of the Digital Citizen.

The top ten skills requested by today’s and tomorrow’s employers are no longer as transfixed as multiplication tables and five-paragraph essays; the skills have transformed to become the very character of the individual.

  1. Collaboration
  2. Problem-solving
  3. Decision-makinglightbulb1
  4. Planning, prioritization, and time management
  5. Communication
  6. Adaptability and flexibility
  7. Creativity and innovation
  8. Research & information literacy
  9. Responsible citizenship
  10. Interactive mindset

These ten skills encapsulate the expectations of students in the Age of the Digital Citizen. Students are no longer solely beholden to the work and expectations of their immediate community, but must also strive to connect and communicate with the entire online community. Globalization signifies a mandatory shift in education, encouraging a true student-centered learning environment, in which technology is the catalyst, the enabler, and the facilitator. The plan outlined above will launch education into the twenty-first century, and bring with it the promise of selfless, global-minded citizens. Tomorrow will be met with well-informed, truly innovative, curious, and collaborative individuals who grew up in the United States of America, in the time of the most revolutionary educational overhaul to date.

Social Media in Learning Environments

Social media types graphic, courtesy of http://c4lpt.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2011/10/handbook3.png

 

An Edutopia article coyly reminds us “Social-networking tools aren’t just for flirting.” Truly, social media has evolved to become much more than a way for teens to interact; it is a news source, a collection of personalized interests, a one-stop (or borrow for free) shop, a medium through which users can continuously learn. Social media has become all these things and much more.

In a report on social media use in higher education faculty, a summation of the findings is listed below:

“Virtually all higher education teaching faculty are aware of the major social media sites; more than three-quarters visited a social media site within the past month for their personal use; and nearly one-half posted content. Even more impressive is their rate of adoption of social media in their professional lives: over 90% of all faculty are using social media in courses they’re teaching or for their professional careers outside the classroom.”

Many educational professionals are embracing the popularity of social media to extend the walls of the classroom. Teens and young adults have learned to “reflex-check” personal cell phones and social media. Using technology and social media has become such a frequent occurrence throughout the day that it seems educators have caught on… One of the best ways to encourage thinking about the content outside of the classroom is to enter the social media environment, many students’ playground.

Students and educators are encouraged to grow “Personal Learning Networks” not only to make professional connections, but also to broaden one’s learning base and to continue learning around-the-clock, as illustrated in the following graphic.

How to Grow Your Personal Learning Network with Social Media

 

While social media used to creep into classrooms in more traditional ways (and still do today) in the form of Facebook profile get-to-know-you templates or Twitter template exit tickets, the actual technology is more frequently employed today than ever. Social media use has grown exponentially, and growth has flourished differently among various generations. The Search Engine Journal has depicted this comparative social media growth in a clear and comprehensive infographic. The infographic shows daily Twitter use is declining among users, wheras daily and diverse Facebook use is still exponentially on the rise. It may be well-advised, then, for educators to consider a Facebook page designed to connect learners, but an Edudemic “Ultimate Twitter Guidebook for Teachers” posted in 2010 may be verging on obsolete.

Interestingly, Instagram was not explored as a social medium within this infographic; however, due to personal observations in classrooms I propose that it is a popular form of social media today, which calls for investigation. Within my current summer school classroom, I have explored integrating this social media within my SAT Prep class. Though cell phones are confiscated for the entirety of the class sessions by school supervisors, I noticed students using their cell phones before and after school to respond to and send messages and to monitor likes and comments on Instagram pictures. As such, our class has instituted infrequent homework assignments, which ask students to come up with advice, an example, or a picture to post to Instagram and/or Facebook with the class-invented hashtag of #OnMyWay2400. This hashtag was voted upon in a democracy-like election. It can be conjectured that this hashtag was elected due to its ability to capture in a small tidbit the idea of seeking the perfect SAT score of 2400.

One of the many #OnMyWay2400 Instagram pictures shared to extend the learning environment with social media use

 

It has been enlightening to see what pictures students snap, design, and upload. A word to the wise: if students have private profiles within the social media type used, not all pictures will be visible to all users. While privacy is a wonderful thing, it can also mean closed doors for an assignment designed to be open. Limitations must be understood before integrating a specific technology within a lesson; beyond that, the possibilities are endless for incorporating social media in learning environments. Educators must strive to embrace and integrate technology and social media in the learning process in meaningful and connected ways; indeed, many have already begun.

Empowering The Powerless in Education: We Want More

Teachers: We want more instructional time.

Students: We want more summer time.

This is the inner dialogue you would expect to hear in teachers’ and students’ heads, but for students in California this is not the case. According to a San Francisco Chronicle article, students from seven low-performing schools in California are fighting for more instructional time; nearly a month ago they filed a lawsuit against the state and education officials in an attempt to right the wrongs of lost learning time during their time in the school system. The Los Angeles Times also covered the story, contending that the lawsuit was filed due to “the lack of quality learning time for these students” and that this is in direct “violation of the Constitution’s equal protection guarantee.”

What exactly does the Constitution give these students a right to? An “adequate education.”

Not equal education. Not best attainable education, or good, or thorough education. Adequate.

It is a sad state in society when students must stand up for themselves because they know they have received a poor, inadequate education. These students have experienced teachers leaving due to various reasons, only to be replaced by substitute teachers who do no more than pass out worksheets and packets. Unless these were some magically interactive, engaging, thought-provoking packets, my guess is not much learning occurred during these “instructional” periods. Students must be actively learning material; as a short article from Columbia University points out: “When students brains are passive, their brain doesn’t do an especially effective job of processing or retaining…information.” Even if a teacher is there all year round, if he or she is doling out poor instruction, or teacher-centered instruction, that teacher is not providing students with a good education.

We Want More: Instructional Time

It’s not just students that are trying to get more instructional time. When heavy winter storms struck the northeast this year, some schools took action, requiring students to attend school on Saturdays to make up for lost time. Other schools resorted to adding on multiple days to the end of year schedule; Fairfax County Public Schools in Northern Virginia, first due to let out June 20 will now see the end of the year on June 25. Whether Saturdays or summer days, schools are pressured to add instructional time by the federally mandated 180 days policy.

Whereas years ago, administrators and parents alike might be happy to know that their Johnny and June are learning addition and the middle of the alphabet on Monday, many schools today have adopted daily objectives, or learning targets. These targets help to give a feasible focus for students during a lesson. Indeed, focus on daily objectives has proven successful for many school’s standardized achievement. As standardized tests continue to grind on schools though, school districts like Fairfax County Public Schools in northern Virginia, are pumping out unit pacing guides with standard after standard to teach to students. Even with 180 days, it feels overwhelming to try to get all students to master each and every standard at grade level, all the while differentiating assessments for every student.

We Want More: Professional, Purposeful Instructional Time

“The truth is that there simply aren’t enough hours in the day to do everything that is required of me,”says Rachel Fairbank, of her first year teaching experience in the Houston Independent School District.She is not alone in this feeling, and it’s not just first year teachers. Teachers are caught in a balancing act between giving students the best education possible and proving their worth with data that can neatly be entered into evaluation matrices. Teacher’s daily checklists are piled high, and toppling over. “Teacher burnout” is indeed lurking in the dark corners of most teachers’ minds, but luckily for many, it will never become a reality. What is teacher burnout, and how do we avoid it while still maintaining a highly engaged, highly performing student body?

teacher, bending over backward

Teachers often bend over backward, leading to teacher “burnout.”

Dale Knepper thinks of teacher burnout as “a diminished sense of accomplishment, exhaustion, and a sense of depersonalization,” all of which can be the result of pushing too hard, the prevalent isolation of those in the field, insufficient professional development opportunities, and/or inadequate administrative support. Teacher burnout isn’t teachers quitting and switching careers. Not always. No, it can also mean teachers who have burned out, but remain in the field, completely ineffective, and providing severely inadequate instruction.

Studies have indicated many different areas, which can stave off feelings of burnout. Knepper suggests it all comes back to classroom management strategies and building positive relationships with students. Barbara Laravee, in her book “Cultivating Teacher Renewal: Guarding Against Stress and Burnout,” suggests that teachers learn intervention strategies and communication strategies that result in student responses they desire, or what some schools are calling Positive Behavior Intervention Strategies. In Recognizing Rigorous and Engaging Teaching and Learning, educators and administrators are advised to use RRETL’s framework to:

·       Establish a clear shared vision of rigorous, engaging instructional practices

·       Provide focus for walkthroughs and learning walks

·       Assess the quality and extent of current practices

·       Provide focus for team collaboration

·       Prioritize areas of need for professional development

·      Confirm strengths and areas of improvement

Students, educators, administrators, and legislators all need to be on the same page, working toward a collective, community goal. Students need activities and assessments, which will engage them in powerful, purposeful learning. Educators need sufficient strategies for success and administrative support. Administrators need to support both students and educators as they work toward maximized student learning time. Legislators need to implement policies and laws which directly support students, educators, and administrators in the classroom for their needs and their purposes.

We Want More…Than Just An Adequate Education

As part of almost any teacher’s education preparation courses at university, Maslow’s hierarchy of needsis bound to be found in at least one course. We must first fulfill students’ most basic needs in order to reach higher needs, like respect of and by others, and problem solving and creativity. How then, is it that students in poorer areas with poor instruction are going to attain these high levels of thinking?

Somehow, against all odds, students like those in California are realizing the gaping divide they now face, looking back at the whole of their educational careers. They realize they have not received the adequate education promised to them to prepare them for the world ahead. They may have had teachers leave to due teacher burnout, or maternity leave, or sickness.

toothbrush

Teachers spend money out of pocket to make sure students have what they need to succeed…and to survive.

Then again, they could have had one of the many teachers who routinely pick their own pockets to buy necessity items, like food and toothbrushes, for their students. Or they could have had teachers who,when they see bright decorations, or an intriguing book, or organizing containers, buy them for their classroom without hope of reimbursement. Or they could have had teachers who embrace Bring Your Own Device policies, embrace and integrate technology into the classroom, and differentiate assignments and assessments to students to make lessons more relevant and memorable to each student. Or they could have had teachers who were excited and supported in their professional development endeavors, as they try to better themselves, their classrooms, and their students in the process.

The sad truth is the students who need these could-haves most are the ones who aren’t receiving them. The achievement gap is still glaring. The digital divide is multiplying. The students cry for an “adequate” education is unsettling.

Our students are not “adequate.” Our students are amazing, inspiring, creative, diverse. Our students have the potential to build new things, utilize technology in ways we never thought possible, find cures for diseases, diplomatically discuss issues, and change the world. Our students are not adequate. Our students do not deserve adequate. Our students deserve top-notch, the most engaging, the most memorable, the most creative, the most differentiated. Our students deserve the best education, educators, and educative tools and resources possible.

Nearly a month ago, students stood up for their rights as learners in this world, filing a lawsuit against California state and education officials. I, for one, am eagerly awaiting the results of the case, and looking forward to the shape that the field of education will take because of it.

Deconstructing Digital Divides

Does any aspect of racialized, gendered, or other forms of digital divide pose an obstacle?

Absolutely. Every aspect of society poses diverse obstacles for the development and productive use of a new technology. With any new form of technology, there will always be countless obstacles to be hurdled, or removed, or adapted. With any obstacle though, it takes foresight (or hindsight) to allow overcoming such an obstacle to be an accessible opportunity for all. I like the idea of overcoming a physical obstacle, like a hurdle on a track, as a comparison to the digital divide. In the article “Internet Justice…” Jaeger points out that “laws and regulations have been created…to promote online accessibility for persons with disabilities.” However, there has not been much follow through in the more-than decade since passing most of these laws and regulations, such as Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act, which is not monitored regularly by the majority of government agencies. This is analogous to saying that, should a person be blind, they have the right to access the track and attempt to clear the hurdles. However, no one is regularly making sure that the supports are in place (such as a personal guide, or sound emitters on the hurdles).

“Access” is a broad term, but it does not ensure that users of a new technology are capable of using the technology productively. Warschauer demonstrates this fact further in Models of Access: Devices, Conduits, and Literacy, by stating that “the presence of absence of [a] computing device is only a small part of the broader context that shapes how people can actually use ICT [Information and Communication Technology] in their lives.” Just because hurdles are set up on a track for practice and exercise does not mean that every person on the track will know (or be able to physically see) how to properly jump over a hurdle. Warschauer believes that merely having a device, or having access to a device, is not enough for someone to become capable of using a technology productively; society and culture demand different literacy practices of its citizens, as seen in the different literacy skills practiced in a Pakistani madrassa versus an American university.

So it follows then, that Internet content creators are responsible for providing users with accessible-for-all content. Sunstein presents the many challenges of the abundant content hosted on the Internet. While many are concerned with gaining access to the Internet in the first place (as seen in Parr’s article with Africa’s rising proliferation of mobile phone owners), those with access are choosing to limit their access, personalizing the content they view so succinctly that they are closing themselves off from other perspectives, causing the group polarization phenomenon to occur.

It is my belief that, because of group polarization, that is why we see centralized, over-saturated areas using certain derogatory terms on the internet in Monica Stephen’s “Geography of Hate” map. For instance, we see a high usage of the term “gook” in an unnamed city near Great Bend, Kansas. It can be inferred that Twitter/Facebook users in that area commonly refer to the local Korean population as “gooks,” and because users continue to see and hear others use that term, the usage of the word is reinforced (thus, group polarization). Sunstein suggests, “It is clear that the Internet is serving, for many, as a breeding ground for extremism.” Sunstein, however, does provide recommendations so that the Internet does not simply remain an extremism breeding ground, or, as Jaeger or Warschauer might suggest, a conduit, which is merely an access point of information for some but not for all. One of the most basic, yet easy to implement suggestions is including links to opposing views on sites, so that readers can benefit from a “bigger picture.” He also suggests voluntary self-regulation, subsidy, and public sidewalks. Surely, these are great recommendations, but they do not cover all bases for how to clear this discriminatory hurdle, as no one person can.

In my view, all users of technology and the Internet are citizens who are bound to the responsible and productive use of it. If I create a website today, or publish a blog post, it is my responsibility to make sure it is accessible to all who may venture to view it. Now that I am aware of the laws and regulations in place, and I have seen the importance of inclusion in Lynne Cox’s “Deconstructing Pecha Kucha: A Visually Impaired Artist’s Viewpoint,” it is my duty as a citizen of the Internet age, to make sure my content can reach as many people as possible. All users of the Internet, and of technology today must take a similar standpoint (Facebook already has), or at least see the role they play in using and choosing Internet content. (Note that I am not demanding all accept my extremist view, just that everyone should be willing to see this perspective, as well as others’ perspectives.) We must make sure that government agencies, and indeed all users of the Internet (students included) are aware of laws and regulations that should be enforced. If we are not creating all-accessible content ourselves, we must at least see to it that we are supporting content, which does fulfill, or is actively working toward, accessibility for all to close digital divides.

My final question: if it is not our job as citizens of the Internet age to provide support for our friends, our neighbors, our fellow citizens to clear today’s technological hurdles, then whose job is it?

Collections vs. Collaborations in the Classroom

Our lecture last night sparked many enlightening discussions, but the idea of “collections vs. collaborations” was the first thing I thought of this morning after my alarm went off. I couldn’t shake the idea, and I find it necessary to dissect it a bit more to figure out what implications it truly has in education, and more specifically in my classroom.

A collaborative quality is one of the twenty-first century skills that the workplace requires in any prospective new hire. This brought to mind a statistic shared in one of my last professional development trainings at my middle school: the top ten jobs today did not exist ten years ago. How, then, are we to prepare today’s students for the future? We must be constantly preparing for the unforeseeable, and we must give our students skills they may need, not facts which can be committed to rote memory.

One of the problems I am seeing in my classroom is that, when given group work, my students tend to create collective works, rather than collaborative works. It is easy for students to “work together” and divide up parts (i.e. “I’ll take odds, you take evens…”) The parts exist together, yes, but beyond discussing “who takes what” students are not actually interacting or collaborating. We must push our students beyond cooperating and coexisting, and into the realm of sharing ideas and creating better ideas together. “Two heads are better than one” has not stuck with us through the ages for lack of meaning.

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In my English classroom, I have tried various ideas to get students to truly collaborate, and I believe the more heads we can get to work together, the better. In seventh grade, students are just learning to develop and own these collaborative skills. When giving students a group project, one of the first things I have students do is assign each member a role. They are all accountable for creating the product as a team, but they are in charge of a specific aspect of keeping their “collaborative machine” on track. During a stations rotations activity in which groups read aloud various texts and were in charge of discussing and deciding the texts genre, students held one of the following teacher-created roles: Spokesperson, Reader, Genre Judge, Main Idea Master, Time Keeper, Clean Up Crew. While it took a lot of setting up (and debriefing afterward, with students discussing what went well and what they could improve), this “everyone-has-a-role” approach truly aided my students in working efficiently and collaboratively. It is to the point now where I can give my students a new project and tell them to decide which jobs may be needed for the project and who will fit which role best.

Teachers must give and demonstrate to students the framework for a collaborative environment, and after practicing working within the structure, students can truly begin to own the idea of collaboration. My students amazed me as we continued completing more group projects in the classroom; they created unique job titles like captain, encouragement coach, and artist. In my experience, our students may need help seeing what collaborative work looks and feels like. Collective work and collaborative work are not necessarily mutually exclusive, but our students need to know that collective work and collaborative work are not interchangeable.

Do Your Best! It’s Just A Test!

In our collaborative learning team (CLT), we discussed different strategies for reviewing material for our standardized test, the Virginia SOL, which is this Wednesday. Given that it was Memorial Day today, and we have but one day left, someone proposed the idea of a Pep Rally Day.

Signed. Sealed. Delivered.

I instantly loved the idea. One of my colleagues specifically proposed the idea of writing our students a Pump Up Letter. Combined with my reading and research for my graduate school program this week on Pecha Kucha presentation technique, I decided to make a bit of a pump-up pep talk video based on this minimalist approach.

It is my hope that my students will take the test seriously, but not too seriously. After all, we cannot let a test result decide our fate. We cannot let a test define us.

We believe in you, Students! It’s time to Show Our Learning!

Love,

Ochwoman

& All Your Teachers

Online Content as “Continuous Conversations”

We must always grapple with the issue of how to make education meaningful, purposeful, and significant for every student. No matter the millennia, I believe humans will always be prone to dazzling distractions and self-serving entertainment or knowledge. Time has shown us that technology affords us new, exciting learning experiences, but that does not mean the learning will stick: Baron shares his memory of education programs on the radio in class, “though I don’t remember any of the programs we heard.” Yes, we have a new technology, computers, to help and hurt learning in the classroom, but it is not as if history has not seen this before.

Carr contends that today’s technology, or “Google” as a general catch-all, is making humans stupid. While I agree that we have many more diverse concerns in the classroom (How do we get students to read and appreciate a novel when they can find a dozen suitable summaries online? How can we capture students’ focus in the classroom on a single topic when that is not what the internet provides or demands of them at any other time?) I have to argue that our students are learning to efficiently find what they need at any time. It is not such a bad thing if our students do not remember everything they read. Indeed, have students ever? There is more of an emphasis now not on “knowing things” but on “knowing how to find things”.  The fact is, Carr is swayed more by personal anecdotes and the possibility of future long-term studies on brain function, than he is by any actual facts (though we can argue yet again: what are facts anymore in today’s society?)

Claburn has produced an article, both in name and in content, that provides a diametrically opposing view to Carr. “Is Google Making Us Smarter” suggests that “searching the Internet may help improve brain function.” I have to admit, it sounds as though Carr and Claburn are actually arguing similar things, but wording them in different ways to prove their points. Carr might well say that brain function is changing for the worse, as we quickly glaze over content and barely focus or remember any one thing; Claburn, however, says that brain function is improved through perusing the internet, finding that it actually “engage[s] a greater extent of neural circuitry that is not activated during reading.“ In Claburn’s article, he is able to “converse” with Carr in a way, presenting his findings, agreeing with Carr on certain points, and highlighting that “Carr’s concern about the impact of the Internet on the way we think isn’t misplaced.” If Carr wanted to, he could continue the conversation in yet another article, most likely posted online, reaching a large audience, among which would probably be a curious Claburn.

In Baron’s book, A Better Pencil, he took great care to teach us about Plato’s first misgivings about text, that a text, once inscribed, would be “orphaned by its author once it’s on the page” and that a text “cannot defend itself against a misreading.” How would readers know if they were right? Well, Plato, perhaps the conversation was never meant to be contained between two people. Interactions, conversations, and texts have evolved to be much more than that. Perhaps it is alright if the conversation continues and is passed on to others. Carr’s conversation, after all, incited a conversation by Claburn, which incited a conversation at the University of Illinois, which incited this conversation by me (the author) to you (the reader). As a student, I don’t feel any worse off reading others’ thoughts and forming my own, and to be honest, I never would have had this conversation or access to this content without the internet.

How does this opposing conversation relate to today’s ever-accessible technology and its place in our classrooms? I think we need to be transparent with our students: technology can and will lead you astray at times; you will be able to find any and all information, but what you choose to do with it is up to you. We must teach our students to be responsible when searching and using the internet. We must teach our students how to identify accuracy of information, but now, more than ever, I think our focus needs to shift to identifying bias. We must teach our students to evaluate a text to see if reading through the whole thing will even be worth their time because, my apologies, Carr, but I do not believe that spending hours reading through entire articles will provide any more lasting memories for our students than will browsing, taking notes on important points, and moving on to continue the browsing-reading process.

How must we adjust as a society and as educators? We must not only accept that there is an over-abundance of information, but we should also expect to be distrustful of online texts at first, and after evaluating, these texts can earn our trust. (You’re right on that account, Plato.) How are we to “evaluate” a text per se? That’s where the true struggle is: online texts are changing all the time. Where there used to be an epic battle against Wikipedia, with educators at the forefront, we are now realizing that it’s not such a bad place to get the general, simple summary of something, as long as facts are checked and double-checked. Where looking at the website address and seeing .org, .edu, or .gov used to be completely credible, we now have to ask what the purpose of each specific site is and who is funding it.

What will I be teaching my students?

Dear Students,

The internet can be a helpful, magical place, or it can be a hurtful, tragical place, if you let it. The internet, and all technologies including printed material for that matter, allow us to transport ourselves to other eras and to other places. Technology allows us to have conversations with others around the world and in other times. No, the original poster may not be able to reply to you, but that knowledge is passed on, so that YOU can learn and continue the conversation. There are no “right” answers to every question anymore. There are certainly still wrong answers though (2+2 will not equal 5, no matter how credible a source appears). However, the emphasis now is on making up your own mind after considering multiple sources, being able to provide support for your argument, and allowing technology and its ample resources to support your needs for whatever you’re doing: an English project, a college research paper, a grant application for your career.

You can navigate the Internet, Students. Just be smart about it.

Love, Your Teacher

Dear Teachers,

We must teach our students not just to think for themselves, but to ask questions of the world they live in and how they are to responsibly interact with and positively impact it.

Love, A Fellow Teacher