I’ve been thinking a lot about this. It’s not about teaching the tools as much as it’s about teaching the ability to adapt to trying new tools and writing lessons that expand one’s thinking. I think about to the mid-2000s. Twitter was exploding with new technology tools. Every day I was flooded with an inbox or a twitter feed of new freemium tools to use — loved it! It was a great time to teach. That phase has long since passed, thankfully, and we’ve now entered a more pedagogical phase when our enthusiasm is governed with a grounded sense in whether or not a particular tool actually improves student learning. I like that. I get called-in to assist or train teachers in various educational technologies, and I always start out with this –> What do you want students to know and be able to do as a result of this lesson? Fifteen years ago, I’m not sure that ways always the first question we asked. Back then, it might have been, “How can I squeeze this sweet tech tool into class?” I’m glad those days are over.
As you wrap your arms around what it means to “Go Google,” consider what it means to integrate technology. Many doors are opened! You have quick access to GAFE, so leverage it to devise learning activities that increase engagement. Our kids love to collaborate, communicate, and share. Think big and shoot for the moon!
Lastly, remember technology is just a vehicle for learning opportunities. A well-designed and engaging lesson still trumps the gadget. Always ask yourself the four magic questions:
- What do we expect our students to learn?
- How will we know they are learning?
- How will we respond when they don’t learn?
- How will we respond if they already know it?
Keep those in mind first and know that there are a multitude of tools (digital and non-digital) at your disposal.
You know it’s going to happen.
Even the most well-planned lesson just might not unfold how you had hoped. It happens to veteran teachers too. There are all sorts of reasons it happens when we do not…
- gather enough material for students to practice skills
- organize groups in a fashion most conducive to learning
- consider exterior factors that might impact learning (homecoming, snowy weather, pep assemblies)
- prepare a plan B if students came to class unprepared
- plan for technology glitches
Obviously, if this happens, it’s best if you can adjust as these events are unfolding, not after. When I taught Sophomore English, I would adjust in between hours. In time, I learned to adjust during the hour. It takes experience to get to that point.
If you’re not at that point yet, then at least reflect at the end of the day. Here are some questions to ask yourself:
- What were influencing factors outside of the classroom that might have impacted student learning?
- What class chemistry factors influenced the success of the lesson?
- At what point did students become confused or disengaged? What can I do to change that next time?
- How did the activity give students a chance to adequately demonstrate their understanding?
Here’s how I would apply these questions to my own experience: A few weeks ago I asked students to read a chunk of text. When they came to class, students were to sketchnote two questions, specifically written at the higher end of Bloom’s. The task was completed in small groups of their choice, and their work was published on the Smartboard, dry erase board, or iPad. It’s not that it was a disaster, but as I was assessing their learning, it became clear to me that many had not read the text as closely as I had hoped. Here’s how I would answer my own questions:
- My students might have more on their plates than I know. I gave them extra time to read, but they still might need more reading comprehension support.
- I allowed them to select their own groups, and I believe those groups were conducive to learning. I do, however, need to build in more checks for understanding within those groups. I could have also included some proof that the students had taken the time to read. Yes, they were to come with notes or post-it note annotations, but I made no adjustments if they came empty handed.
- The students were slightly disengaged the first 15 minutes because it was obvious not all of them had read as carefully as my questions demanded. The other issue I noticed is that some students chose to use iPads, but the iPads aren’t really a great group collaboration doodling device. Two Smartboards sat idle. I should never have offered the iPads as an option.
- The questions were worded right, and the reading answered the questions. Sketchnoting is a valid way to demonstrate understanding, but…it’s really hard to demonstrate understanding if not everyone in the group read carefully. FYI: Most of my class read. It was evident though that their were pockets of people that might have read, but not as carefully as I needed. Here’s the deal though — At the end of the hour, I’m would not be able to map out which students “got it” and which needed support. For that reason, I have to say while I had good intentions, I couldn’t measure what I was looking for. :-\
What would I do differently?
- Show them samples of annotations so they knew what I meant.
- Provide a graphic organizer capturing the text’s big idea.
- Include an individual check via Google forms at the end of the hour.
Every teacher needs to reflect on his or her professional practice — that never stops. When you have a bad day, ask yourself the questions above and readjust. Teaching reminds me of coaching. As a coach, you make adjustments based on how the game is unfolding, right? Any coach that plows through the game with one, static plan will lose. Teaching is not much different. Developing that reflective habit is so important!