Alan November Gives His Thoughts on Teaching and Technology at ISTE

This is the first summer in three years that I haven’t attended an ISTE conference. Going through my Facebook feed while sitting on a couch in Arkansas, I saw this article. After I read it, I thought these are the questions teachers should be asking themselves. The technology uses November suggests are transformative. Looking at SAMR or other models of technology use puts transformation as the goal. I prefer Scott McCleod’s approach to transforming teaching. He suggests moving from teacher-centered to student-centered; from low-level thinking to high-level thinking tasks; and from analog to digital. But it isn’t necessary for every lesson to incorporate all three at once. For instance, you can have a high-level thinking task and not use digital tools. Your lesson won’t be transformative just because you are using technology. November’s first question gets at the concept of shifting from teacher-centered to student-centered.

I love the idea of students designing their own problems. I have heard this at other workshops and conferences before and yet as teachers we are reluctant to have kids create problems for themselves. Is it because we are afraid we can’t solve them? I hope not.

I score very well on question 2–creating your own professional development. I love taking online classes of all sorts: poetry writing, areas of science, and technology. Last year I was part of the inaugural cohort of Future Ready Teachers–six courses offered by Google. It is great when you have a class of students game for anything. I like attending conferences when possible. All of my professional journals (NSTA, ASCD, ISTE) are available online. Fortunately, there are also many free ways to add to your learning: webinars, sites (Mindshift, Edutopia to name a couple), Edshelf (an app where users contribute apps on different subject area shelves), podcasts, and courses via iTunes and other organizations.

Student self-assessment seems like an easy concept to implement but I have found that without the proper understanding of the rubric or the expectations, students don’t take it seriously or it may be more correct to say, they can’t take it seriously because they don’t understand what they are being asked to do. I will look into Prism, a tool November mentions to see how it might assist students. I ask my students to highlight aspects of their writing that meet the criteria and if they are missing, to revise, but since that is a directive from me, I’m not sure it qualifies as self-assessment. From time to time, students reflect on their work and set goals, usually before conferences. The pre-tests for reading units they take are self-assessed. Again, these are assignments I give. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if students checked themselves without prompting? The publishing aspect of this is especially important. The idea that someone other than the teacher or their parents reading their writing or checking out their project is highly motivating. My kids keep blogs but rarely are they read by anyone other than me. If anyone reading this wants to do some kind of blog share, I’m in. I know my boyfriend, a fanzine writer himself, would love the idea that kids are writing fan fiction. Perhaps this year, we will have an online fifth grade magazine. !!

As for question 4, I have tried Twitter class accounts a few times. I’m not sure I will try it again. The impact just doesn’t seem to be enough to justify the time it takes since I have to monitor and approve all tweets going out. Then I have to remember to find time to share the class feed with the class. I won’t say never again, but I remain unimpressed by Twitter’s power for my students. (I use it periodically as a professional.)

I love the idea of question 5–purposeful learning and will think about how I could make that happen for my students. Question 6 isn’t tough for me since I am a life-long learner and a poet. I share my learning process quite often. My kids know I take classes and are interested in how I learn as well as what I learn.

Perhaps the most exciting question of all is question 7. I work hard to create independent learners and thinkers. If I could, I’d let them have more control over what they learn. I have to teach the curriculum given but within that, I give the kids as much choice as I possibly can. For example, for the past two years, I have opted to teach the independent writing project instead of personal narrative because the students get to choose how they want to improve their writing. I love the idea of video tutorials. Having the kids create those for others sounds like a marvelous idea. Adjusting the level of the video script for an audience, determining what is most important, and finding the most succinct way to say it is meaningful work and applicable to writing and reading. At the NSTA Minneapolis regional conference in October, I attended a session where research was done that showed when students have to write for a younger audience, they retain more of what they learned. The older kids had to break down the vocabulary and ideas to a level the younger ones could understand. Breaking concepts down into component parts helped the writers fully comprehend them.

I realize this is a lengthy post but since it is summer, I have plenty of time to write! And because it is summer, it is a good time to reflect on how I might implement some of these transformative ideas into my teaching come August.

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