It has been a long time since I wrote on this blog, however, I would like to get back into writing again and viewing other blogs. I feel as though I am so out of the loop in my new school with technology and everything going on. I am hoping that this short little blog is the beginning to a new start in writing and getting back on track in the blogging world! Hope to join you all soon!
Sitting in the library with about twenty colleagues the conversation is interesting and inspiring. We are discussing what the meaning of really understanding something means. If teacher want students to discuss information then the students say that they really need to understand a concept. But what does it mean to truly understand? One program which was brought up is the Mathscape program which focuses on one topic or concept for an entire book. The students really get to know the material if they are immersed in it. We need to be careful to not do superficial things were students get off the hook by thinking they only need to know it for a test or a short period of time. It is the feeling of really understanding for every student that really makes the understanding come alive for that student.
Technology is a fantastic tool which has drawn a lot of frustrations into my classroom today. Being new to the technology hub of things I was pretty excited when I learned that I could share documents with my students on Google Docs. So with enthusiasm, I wrote up a lesson plan about taking notes for their persuasive essays and how to share it with me at the end of class. Last Thursday, it was put to the test and hence my first frustration began. When I shared the document with all my students I put them as collaborators not realizing that they could all delete, change and add to my document. I found this wonderful fact out during my first class when my writing soon disappeared and student’s thoughts, ideas and facts were appearing on the page before me instead. I quickly seeked advice and after trying out a few things, I soon realized that if I delete the document and resend them one as viewers only, everything would work out. So, you live and learn and keep on trying new things, tweeking until you get them right!
Everything was going well, I was able to load everyone’s document, read what the wrote and leave comments for all of them for today’s class. It was brilliant until my students went to open Google Docs and their documents would not load. Ahh..the frustrations set in again as they panicked because they thought their work was lost and tried to figure out what to do with out the work in front of them. The class went one of two ways: either they sat and stared at the screen hoping it would download or they opened word and continued their notes hoping to upload it later into Google Docs.
Through this experience,even though frustrating at times, I still feel these are valuable tools the students should be using. These couple of days were also teachable moments in the classroom as well. The students learned that plans do not always work out. They also learned that technology is not fool proof and you cannot always depend on it. The internet does not always work the way you want it to and you should always have a back up plan. The students learned a lot those few days and now I feel they are better students for it. They still continue to use Google Docs but now seem to back up their work in Word as well, just in case. I have grown as a teacher too. I learned to always have a backup plan when using technology and that you have to be flexible in the plans and teaching. I have to be able to go with the flow and adjust as needed. What an incredible learning experience yet frustration day!
As I sit in Mr. Biche’s science classroom, staring out at Mt. Washington, I begin to think about blogging versus just commenting. As I look around I am immersed in vocabulary such as ISSO7, blogging, google reader and many other technological words. Although I have a class blog myself, I feel my students are not really blogging yet. My blog tends to be more of myself writing the assignment or topic I would like them to talk about and then my students writing their comments down. My students I feel see it more as another version of their writing journal in which they write paragraphs or essays in response to the questions I leave for them. In talking with Mr. Biche and reading his blog, I am not alone in this feeling here on our team. So, how do I get the students blogging and not just commenting?
Well, for starters Rick and I decided to create learner blogs for our students. We created four blogs and assigned about eighteen students to a blog. Then we sat down and made groups of five to assign students from various blogs who would be in charge of commenting on each other’s blogs in their group. After all this work, I still have no idea how to make the blog grow and become what Rick and I are hoping it to be: a place where students are engaged in conversations about topics having to do with their lessons and interdisciplinary units on the team.
“In education, however, the product – the grade, the final draft, the test mark – still often takes precedence over the process of learning – the sense of personal journey without which the final destination is meaningless. What is even worse is that many of our students are very comfortable with that idea. To them, school is often about “playing the game.”
How do we get students to stop playing the game and begin conversing with each other through blogging? I feel that in order to truly blog the students will need to open their minds, be willing to put in the extra effort, and write meaningful posts that will intrigue and illicit conversation. Being eighth graders, this is a hard task to accomplish.
Coming into school on the first day, I was immediately overwhelmed by the technology terms Rick Biche (my team leader) was throwing at me. I use to think my computer skills were up to par with the rest of the world but lately I feel I am constantly retraining myself and yet still trying to grasp the realm of the unknown. Although I have a class blog, Twitter, google reader and technorati account, I feel that I am far from giving my students the education they deserve to succeed in our ever changing society. For the past three weeks I have been involved in a Learning Through Teaching course at our school. Among many other conversations, the one that keeps returning is the struggle to stay on top of Literacy in the 21st Century. I feel that Konrad Glogowski says it best:
“In my classroom – a predominantly blogging classroom – things have to be different. I believe that it is my role as an educator to ensure that my students are given opportunities to grow as individuals, and are not treated as mere pupils who passively receive information.”
In this day in age in teaching, we as teachers, have to realize that our world is changing and with that our teaching needs to change. A colleague of mine, Sean Littlefield, stated:
“We as teachers have spent so much of our time debating what our students should learn that we have constantly overlooked how they learn it. With information so readily available at the click of a mouse we need to shift our paradigm. I feel almost blasphemous saying, but I am starting to care less and less about what content knowledge my students have. Five years ago I probably would have told you that it was important to me that my students be able to accurately describe the parts of a cell. Today I am less concerned about that and more concerned about their ability to successfully find that information when they need it.”
I believe it is true that teaching today is teaching the students how to find the information they need and how to build the knowledge they need in order to access that information. Simply going onto the internet and searching is not enough anymore, students need to know how to build a network, blog, comment, and communicate with people outside of their city, state, and even country. So, as I ponder this I think about my curriculum and the sources I am teaching to my students. Is it enough to have them commenting on my blog about topics I give them? Should I be spending endless hours searching for other Language Arts Classrooms to have discussions with and carry on conversations with my students? What other tools and resources should I be teaching them? When is too much, too much?
Last night I had the chance to see the Kennett High School Drum Line in their first concert called “A Night of Percussive Mayhem”. The students, who range from freshman to seniors, practice every week, on their own, with the help of a parent chaperon. To put it simply, it was amazing. The talent ranged from obvious beginners to more experienced drummers, yet every student made it entertaining and exciting to watch. As I sat there watching, I was amazed by the hidden talent that my former students had. It is truly inspiring to see the students succeed and make a difference to the community by putting on a show which brought about 400 out to see them in the brand new auditorium. I hope to see more of these groups and activities coming from the high school and a follow-up performance by the Drum Line of Kennett.
The inner intelligence of my students came out again last week when I asked them to comment on two different posts on the class blog. The first post was about our word of the week, which last week was servitude. Again, I had them look up the word and read the prologue to Amistad and then comment on what the word means and how the reading had meaning to the word itself. The students picked up on the connection of slavery right away. The second post was less directed and had a link to a news article from Prime Time about a nine year old Egyptian girl who was a slave in a household in California. I ended the post with the question of what are there thoughts and comments and if slavery still exists today. I was astonished and taken aback by the sensitive, intelligent and worthy comments they left about not only slavery in the United States but the cruelty behind the Egyptian girl’s situation.
The next day, I decided to read some of their responses aloud in my classes. I was careful not to state who wrote the comment as I read about five of them in a row. I then opened up the discussion again hoping to gain more intellectual thinking in the classroom on the topic and about the novel we were about to start. I was wrong. As usual, I had the few students who always raise their hand, say exactly what I was looking for while the others in the class sat back, looking at the ceiling or floor and praying that I would not call on them.
What went wrong? As I struggled with prompting them and trying to get the answers they produced on line, after about ten minutes I gave up and started the reading assignment. I thought maybe with more information they would boost my spirits and join in on the discussions as we read. Once again it became a futile battle, with two students raising their hands and the others looking like lumps on a log. Was it because they did not understand the material? Did they not understand the questions? Or maybe, I was directing too much and should have left it more open ended.
I have been tossing this senerio around in my head for a few days now. Why can’t the students produce the same voice in the classroom as they do on line? In talking with Rick Biche, a science teacher on my team, we came to the conclusion it is because of the “privacy” of the computer. When the students type, at their own stations, with no one else listening or reading over their shoulders, they are alone and are free to voice their own opinions, thoughts and inner intelligence and no one will make fun of them or knock them down for it. Their “privacy” from the other peers in the room is there. Once the comment is posted, it then becomes public knowledge, but their embarrassing moment is long gone by then. In thinking about this, how can I get my students to discuss and interact in the classroom with the same inner intelligence and voice they have while blogging and leaving comments? How can we create the ultimate environment where no child will feel offended or shy to share what they think? The internet is an amazing tool for those students who stare at the floor and ceilings and skate by without ever speaking in the classroom, but is that a worthy education for the student? And, if so, how do we begin to assess their comments, posts and other uses of internet technologies?
Walking into the classroom one can only see the multiple book cover projects on the counters, students reading and writing comments about thier peers work and once in awhile a conversation between student’s about the information they are finding or questions they are asking about the person on the book cover.
Last Friday, I introduced commenting through paper blogging. What amazed me the most was the positive energy that radiated from my students upon explaining the assignment to them. I did not receive one complaint. In fact, every student was engaged the entire class period and left comments which were intelligent and responded to other peers views, ideas and thoughts. I feel that presentations with the covers would not have produced the same outcome.
I have realized, through the paper blogging, that when students are left to their own accord and given little instruction (more a guidance) then they seem to flourish and succeed. My students have an inner intelligence which most of the time goes unused. Why? because teachers like myself provide students with examples, directions and tell the students in one way or another exactly what they want to see on the assignment or project. The students then produce what we want, but I have to question, is that really what I want? After much thought on the paper blogging, I realized that my students have the ability and intelligence to flourish in my classroom without my hindrance and strategic planning. Now granted, I did give my students directions, examples I wrote and told them what they could comment on, and needless to say most of them followed what I had on the board. However, after thinking about the commenting I honestly feel that without specific guidelines the outcome would have resulted in the same type of comments. So, with future lesson plans I am going to try and make the topics broad enough for the students to become creative high level thinkers in their own way with, of course, little guidelines from me. Whether it will work or not, I will let you know!
The past month, for me, has been a whirl wind tour of what literacy and technology will be and is in the twenty first century. My journey began with a quick introduction to blogging and setting up a class blog in which students are commenting on topics we are discussing in class. Taking a leap into the world of technology with little understanding was confusing and frustrating at times yet exciting and inspiring. I felt a part of a community of learning when my Learning Through Teaching course at work, discussed how literacy in the 21st Century is changing due to blogs, wikispaces and more by reading a chapter in Adolescent Literacy By Kathleen Beers, Robert Probst and Linda Rief.
Upon attending the ACTEM conference in Augusta, Maine last week, I realized how important technology is becoming in our world today and how vitally important it is for our students to be learning the ways of the internet and Web 2.0. Through my new journey of wikispaces and the KMS Bloggers, I hope to discover the fasinating world of Web 2.o and achieve success in Literacy in the 21st Century as a writer and a teacher of Language Arts.
To my fellow KMS Bloggers and anyone else who finds this blog, I hope that our conversations and blogging will be exciting, inspirational and lead us into the technology world for ourselves and our students. I look forward to blogging with all of you!