I have dedicated a fair amount of my life to redefining the experience in my classroom over the past 3 years. I still have a lot to do but I am proud of how far I have come. I count the following among my successes.
-Students are far more central to class activities than they ever were. I give them more choices and much more control not only in what we learn but how we will learn it.
-The products that students submit are widely varied but show a deeper understanding of learning.
-We have deeper more nuanced conversations about our subject matter (history) than we ever have before. Students find messy histories that we need to make sense of, something that did not happen very often before.
-There are different voices being heard in my classes. Students who used to get A’s are contributing great things to class and students who once sat silent find ways to share in ways that weren’t possible before.
All of the above are the results of having tools that help me redefine learning, but redefining learning is not without consequences. If you are to promote the change, you should be aware of some potential consequences.
Some changes can been seen as destructive to the prevailing archetypes of how learning should take place. Intentionally or not, people can be threatened by, resistant to and dismissive of the changes. If you are closely associated with the change, they will project these feelings on you as well. Unsettling the masses wasn’t on my to do list, but in a sense the people who feel this way aren’t exactly wrong.
What I have gained from all of this is that the best way to drive change is not to become the evangelical techie who condemns the practices of other teachers, but to respect the effective teaching they have done and show them where technology can add to what they already do so well. Accept that the transformation technology creates in the classroom is not imposed, but is rather a process that a teacher undergoes once they understand what is now possible. That is where the actual growth and the real change happens.
If you present technology as the end of what we know and love, it is natural to resent it. Beware condemning their past practice. It is a common mistake. However, if we present technology as a tool that will help teachers to more effectively accomplish the goals that they have dedicated their lives to, we have to hope they will embrace it. One thing that I am proud of is that regardless of personality, every person I work with on a given day cares deeply about helping our students. They won’t hesitate to employ tools that make that possible.
Being an introvert is not a bad thing. Recently there is a wave of writing discussing how schools are failing to meet the needs of introverts by creating classrooms that demand that students become extroverts in order to succeed.
These are the student who will share a great idea with you privately after class when the crowd has dissipated. These are the students who write the most amazing and insightful papers but during debates keep that insight to themselves. I have spent my entire career trying to find ways to make them feel comfortable enough to risk sharing in my class. In reality I have never found a way to hear from regularly. So they sit silently, all of their talents and gifts, their thoughts and ideas, present but unheard.
from “Calvin and Hobbes” by Bill Watterson
Today, if I were to lose the devices (iPads) that that my students have I would mourn the loss not of the technology but of the voices that my students have gained through having them.
One student, who I will call Ellis, (pseudonym) has never once voluntarily spoken in my class. Were this another year I would think that she had nothing to say. I would not even have pegged her as someone who is interested in politics, but because my class used a Today’s Meet room to discuss the Presidential debates I got to hear her share opinions and interact with her classmates. With electronic communication a person has the chance to see their words in writing before they share them. They can hone their thoughts more effectively then when put on the spot in class. And share she did, more effectively than any other student who joined the chat that night.
Unfortunately she is not in a 1:1 class. It is hard to replicate that moment and the conditions that let her find her voice and support her convictions.
If I take a good look at my 1:1 classes I can name many students who I would call leaders. Some are extroverts but more than a few are like Ellis; intelligent and inspiring introverts who under the right conditions have something to offer to the whole class. They raise questions about films and leave me stunned with their thoughtful advice to classmates on blogs. I can think back to past students who could have offered similar contributions, but lacked the tools and opportunities to do so. They had voices too.
You probably know a student like Ellis. Can you give them a voice? Can you help them speak louder or let more people hear them? We should strive to raise their voices above a whisper.
You won’t be able to do it all. You have limited time and therefore you will have to decide what you value. Identify what you value most and focus your efforts there.
Schools are going to have to choose. It will not be easy and you better not try to rush the process. 1:1 devices are a trendy topic. Ultimately they force schools to make many hard choices. You can read a lifetime’s worth of articles on every aspect of 1:1 but they will all eventually return you to the idea above.
The first few weeks of my 1:1 pilot were a very stressful time. I was adding volumes of skills, daily student choice and doing iPad set up regularly. I felt torn between the tech and the content. Daily I would drive home and feel that I had failed on some level. My school district did not tell us “you must do this!!” and much was left to the individual teachers. (Which I believe is ultimately a good thing for a pilot to do.)
Finally reality slapped me. I realized that the curriculum can only expand so much if the time available does not expand with it. I needed a focus. I needed to decide what was important and make some decisions. I looked at the critical learning standards for my course, focused on how the technology could add to their development and started to refocus. This was how I could best focus my efforts, my time, and the technology towards the priorities of my school and my district. It is my divining rod as to what is essential and what can be cut.
If a whole school is to succeed in going 1:1 these hard decisions will need to be framed for the teachers in advance. Leaders will need to identify and communicate the values that should be driving teacher choices.
“We believe (X) is important for our students. Use this technology to achieve that aim.”
So find your school’s goal, your purpose, your “True North”. Make it clear to everyone. Then pursue it with all your might.
1. Digital Natives=Digital Students: “They have grown up with technology and it’s like second nature to them.”
It is true that students use a lot of technology. Many teachers assume that this means that students will instantly feel comfortable using technology in the classroom. While it may be true of some, it is wrong to assume that it will be an easy transition. Today’s students use technology for some very specific things; games, social media, video chats, reading about their interests, possibly making movies. Once you start talking about curating information and synthesizing meaning from multiple sources, they will initially look at you blankly. They will come around but you are going to need to support them and help them get past the immediate difficulty. You will need to know what you want and how to help them get there. Otherwise the natives will be restless.
2. Immediate Engagement- “Students with devices will suddenly, magically connect with the content!”
Technology is not a panacea. Students see most technology as a social or recreational tool. We are doing nothing less than re-tasking their use towards an educational purpose. Once classes have made the transition teachers will have the ability to bring learning to a higher level and find deeper meaning. But before that can happen, you will have a lot of work to do. How will you help them to redefine the purpose of their device? How can you help socialize appropriate behavior? How can you get them to see the excitement and learning potential? Because until you do, you have armed them with a powerful learning tool that also just so happens to be a powerful distraction tool. Teachers are going to have to help them connect with the material just as much as they ever did before. You better have a plan.
3. Time: “Going 1:1 will save time in the classroom” and/or “Going 1:1 will consume time that I can’t afford to lose.”
Really both of these are right and wrong in that going 1:1 will force you to totally reevaluate where you spend your time. You will have to review each activity and each lesson to see how it is affected by the new “Economy of Information” in your classes. What you do will change and so will how you do it. In this regard going 1:1 will upset you because it will shatter your time budget. Nearing the end of my first 1:1 semester I see that I am starting from square one. In some places I have gained time. In others I have lost it. In reality what has happened is I have redistributed time based upon a new set of classroom values. I have divorced myself from the timeline that is in essence based upon a textbook and retooled it based upon my districts learning objectives and the needs and interests of my students.
Putting Tech Before Content– New tech is exciting. Students (and teachers) will be focused on the new devices. It is easy to get sidetracked by the excitement. I spent so much time trying to front load all of the setup, sign up and procedure that I lost something essential to my class. While they were fired up about technology, I had not gotten the students excited about history. Keep your focus on your content. It is your content that defines your class and it is your content that will drive the way you use your device, not the other way around.
Too Much Too Fast– It is hard for students to get comfortable with a new piece of technology unless they have time. Requiring too many new tech competencies to quickly upsets students. They need time to build upon past skills and integrate them with new ones. I buried my students in accounts and passwords. I set up everything I thought I would be using for the year within the first week. It was too much for many students. Focus on fewer more important skills and Scaffold early assignments to build to more complex ones. Think big picture.
Lack of Tech Focus- There will be times where a new technology is AMAZING and perfect to generate more learning and deeper understanding. But there will be times where it is nothing more than a shiny distraction. I am constantly asking myself “Why use this? What is the benefit? What is the loss?” Choose your essential technology carefully. Choose things that support your lesson goals and allow productivity.You can’t do everything and be distracted by every new technology you learn.
No Recovery Time– Students have grasped a new skill and they need time to absorb it, apply it, and use it effectively. When lessons go well and students succeeded I can be too quick to move on the next big idea. I quickly learned that I needed to provide some recovery time for students to get proficient before I could focus on the next tech competency. Stop, and allow them to understand before you present new technology. Beyond just taking it slow (see above) I learned that sometimes you have to take a break. Don’t over complicate this though. Sometimes knowing the right time to proceed is as simple as asking. Trust your students in this process.
Limiting Students to What the Teacher Knows– When given a choice students are going to choose tools that they are comfortable with and that allow them to express what they know. You may not have the slightest knowledge of them or how they work. It is impossible to be proficient at every web tool, app and program available. I have poured myself into learning as many as I can. There are many where I would consider myself an expert but that in no way means that they are the best resource for every student. Don’t be afraid to let students use technology beyond your knowledge base and understanding. Accept that you are student too. Learn.
See the previous article in the series here.
Identity Crisis– You will become a student too. The moment you have devices in your classroom, you are no longer THE resource for answers in the classroom. Students will be finding sources with much greater insight on your subject area than you can offer. I (as a history teacher) was presented with ideas and facts that were completely new to me on a daily basis. Class was more about interpreting new ideas and evaluating their credibility. I was thinking more. They were thinking more. My place in the classroom changed. Even though I liked it overall, it was very stressful because it forced me to redefine who I was in the classroom.
Remodeling– The physical space of my classroom made no sense. We worked in groups a lot. I was constantly moving students around and they were sitting on the floor and in the hallway. It didn’t take long for me to realize that they were out of the desks more than in them. The collaboration and groups were now more common than not. I had to change my class space to reflect that. Why couldn’t they do group work in desks? Why didn’t I reorganize the presentation space around their presentations rather than mine? My classroom had always been staged to focus their attention on me and my answers. That organization flew in the face of my new classroom objectives. So I asked my students to redesign my room and I am in the process of making the change.
Fear (Freedom is Scary)– Devices gave my students options and presented then with choices. Some of them were completely freaked out by this. Worksheets are boring but they are safe. One answer per answer blank is intellectually easy but also emotionally easy. When you tell students “It’s up to you, you decide.” It will cause some of them anxiety, a lot of anxiety. This is especially true of the “pleaser” who just wants to make you happy and do what you ask. I am learning that I can help them through this but you better be ready. Their anxiety is real.
Invalidation– Much of what you used to do was based upon an “Economy of Information” with scarcity at its core. Devices revealed to me that this model is dead. So I moved quickly to change it. But then I realized that the model was invalid in my non 1:1 classes as well. So how could I restructure lessons to make them more appropriate for an information abundant world? How do I do that without the devices? When is lecture appropriate in this model? How do I move my focus to the big ideas? #facepalm
Massive Overhaul– I began my dive into 1:1 technology by making some processes tech friendly. I made class resources electronic. I poured myself into workflow and how I could give and receive materials. Then I moved to integrating technology projects to replace certain lessons. Now I find myself evaluating bigger ideas such as:
- If my class is no longer based upon a text book, and my units were organized around that units, should I completely reorder my units too?
- How can a multiple choice test be effective to assess learning when learning is individualized.
- How can our classes be moving to the values of individual creativity and creation when our institutions are being evaluated by standardized assessment.
The change goes beyond lessons, beyond my classroom to much bigger things. My advice to anyone about to dive into this would be to prepare yourself to take a good look at what you do on every level. Do not just walk into this casually. You will not find the rewards you a looking for. But with the right planning and consideration you can find rewards beyond your expectations.
See the article in the series here.
I am 12 or so weeks into having iPads in the classroom, and each week, new revelations occur. An area of focus this week has been answering this question: “What type of student will thrive in the 1:1 classroom and what type of student will struggle?” The obvious follow up to that question is then “What supports can I create for the students to help them adapt and thrive.”
Today in class I was doing an activity using Hindu god cards. (Find more about this specific activity here). The goal is to generate questions about the values that are represented and symbols that are present in the Hindu religion.
In the past I have provided some lecture instruction prior to the activity. This year I did not. I am less likely to do so in general because I am growing used to the students seeking the answers themselves. I can create a lesson that generates interesting, compelling and student generated questions.
As these types of lessons become more common I find that there is one category of student is likely to get frustrated, even agitated by them: The high achieving and intelligent student used to high instruction, heavy content classes. These are good, even great students who want to do well and are eager to be told how to do so. They are used getting the answers and learning them. They are highly intelligent. They excel on tests and projects and will be the one with many questions about “the right way” to do things. They are masters trained in the art of the teacher centered classroom.
And they are going to STRUGGLE when faced with the changes caused by open ended and interpretive lessons that are becoming a part of my 1:1 classroom. They wonder when I am going to lecture and start giving notes and they wonder why there aren’t more worksheets and packets for them to complete thoroughly. Very often, their parents are wondering that same thing.
I believe that very shortly they will adapt and learn how to be successful and grow more comfortable but in the interim I will need to develop a completely different set of supports to help them to adapt. I will need to have a dialogue from the beginning to explain how and why the model has shifted.
In the end it comes down to the “Why” behind your classroom. You need to know the “Why” behind your what you do and begin sharing it on day 1. Sharing these goals and helping to develop a set of class values is key. If students know why you do what you do, they can trust you, overcome their initial discomfort, and succeed.
These graphics are what I devised to share my vision with my students. They will be on the wall in my classroom.
The Old Model:
The New Model: