“What is next for me personally?” is great question. In its simplicity and sincerity this question has left me believing that someone actually cares about my answer. Our middle and high school have already begun its professional development for next year’s fall semester and a move towards implementing 1:1 IPads for students. Because this carries serious demands on preparedness and paradigm shifts, we hired the best consultant in digital technology, a Google certified instructor, Lucie deLaBruere. She introduced us to organizational applications while steering us away from being enthralled or reliant on tools as the main focus of teaching. Lucie redirected us to consider the following questions. What is my story? Why will parents want students in my classroom in this school??
Most of us realize that whatever app we believe is important in shaping classroom interaction will be superseded by our students’ expertise. Teachers admittedly still view digital technology as a substitution tool or an augmentation that provides some improvement in learning. There are few if any of us at the higher end of the Samr model tier redefining previously “inconceivable tasks” (Puentedura, R.). Transformation in education means knowing who you are as a teacher.
What is it that I do that adds value to teaching and learning?
I seldom ask this of myself. In the digital world students begin this definition by posting “selfies” photos you take of yourself on someone else’s phone. This is a phenomenon I have never tried it until now but it helped me visualize how I am actually seen. I am happy, unencumbered, nonjudgmental. I want students to know this when they walk into my classroom. Happy does not mean that I won’t take them seriously. Their effort to be in school is appreciated and every minute will count. Nonjudgmental means that all questions asked will be responded to instantly, assessments returned without delay with expectations for improvement. Grades are based on improvements not single opportunities. Unencumbered means that once we establish a safe learning environment and routines, student pacing will determine the outcomes.
Interviewing alumni helped me identify the strengths in my practice. Students said that I bring joy to reading. I build appreciation for book discussion and conversation skills. I devote 1:1 mentoring to read alouds and annotation. Another strength is my commitment to editing. Students grumbled but appreciated the chance to use edits for submitting multiple drafts.
How does my strength translate into the digital world?
Recent graduates assured me that my online editing with Google Docs validated writing as a work in progress. Being critiqued was not a final, unchanged mark on their intelligence, it was a pathway for improvement. While students write I am able to move in and out of their documents without leaving my desk. I could comment on a thesis improvement, or remind another about adding source citations without relying on hands held high to grab my attention. Yet this isn’t enough. I envision several previously inconceivable tasks now possible through digital technologies. I can request audio recordings of essays. What if we listen to how an essay reads before we make improvements? Or what if students voice their questions? Notetaking and voice recording applications have merged to provide the space to dialogue about what writing conveys when it moves into conversation. The opportunity to increase fluency and reading comprehension for each student individually is here.
What do I have to do to get an “A”? Is no longer a question.
Last year I experimented with video footage and recorded myself reading, taking notes, modeling homework skills. These were terrible! But the point was that I was willing to experment and to evaluate the outcomes. I sent them to a student enrolled in two classes at the same time and dubbed this the Hermione experiment. The experience taught me that summarizing was of great value and even greater when students finished class with their own recordings. This formative assessment taught them to own their learning. And to seize me for clarity on content as I roamed the classroom . Students asked pointed questions and rehearsed before delivery. There was greater worth in self possessed knowledge delivered in user friendly terms.
Triumph is Try with a little “umph”
Trying something new after 20 years of teaching keeps me motivated and hopefully organized. 1:1 iPad classrooms should help me replace daily, paper itineraries shared calendars available on every student’s device. What if I began class with a Pinterest board or a sticky note giving students the power to their own dates, field trips, dental appointments or family commitments? Would we have improved commitments to deadlines? What if I allowed students to post a note indicating which daily activities they looked forward to and which ones they dreaded? For those with test anxiety just having the power to acknowledge it can relieve some of the stress. If the classroom becomes a space of shared responsibilities a little effort should go a long way.
What is my story? It is nothing if it isn’t fun
Gaming was never digital for me. I have always incorporated cards, Banannagrams, cricket, boule into history lessons. We hand clap rhythms, play tag, set up simulations and rewrite game rules. Students hate being pulled away from a game. How often have educators tried to start class with students unable to look away from the game on their device? Because they are in a race against time? While this action becomes a cause for conflict I am already wondering how to tap into that incentive. So, what is next for me is to have those applications of untold possibility.
Two days ago I had a rare extra hour of free time to sit on my porch and watch a blackening sky roll out layers of clouds heavy with rain and promises of snow. In Vermont, such weather is to be expected. While it could be synonymous to school stresses, it is also rift with possibility. That is what my story is.