Technology is blasting holes through the closed wall environment of the classroom and learning is gushing in from the outside. Teachers, forever the gatekeepers of knowledge, are under seige from a battallion of mobile devices.
Everywhere a teacher looks there are phones, cameras, tablets, personal listening devices and the like. What the students are saying, hearing or seeing on those devices is anyone's guess, and its frightening for a teacher to think that a student could be looking at or saying something inappropriate while under their tutelage. Worse still, they could be learning something other than what the teacher is, at that moment, teaching. The ability to control the learning process is slipping from the teacher's grasp and we're either petrified or oblivious.
But we needn't be. There is a way through this and its all to do with withitness and an understanding that the packaging of knowledge has changed.
Since the beginning of mass education teachers have needed to be alert to signs in the classroom that students were not doing as they should. An experienced teacher knows when a student is off-task. Remember the old movie scene where the teacher rips the book out of the student's hands to reveal the comic he was reading? Or the teacher seeing the note being passed around but waits till recess to ask for the note? Even if the student eats the note, consequences were applied - detention. All we need to do is learn the new signs and use our presence, as we have always done, to get the student back on task.
The changing packaging of knowledge
The packaging of knowledge has been changing since the invention of art. It can be supposed that in the beginning, all knowledge was passed on orally, from elder to the younger. Art then gave the artist the ability to pass on knowledge through paintings, without having to be there. Then came symbols, writing, the printing press, audio and visual recording, electronic broadcasting and finally the Internet. At each step of the way the method of accessing the knowledge has needed a teacher to either unpack the knowledge or to develop the unpacking skills in the student.
In the past, teachers upacked the knowledge by, first of all, stuffing all the knowledge into their own brains and then handing it out in small, bite sized pieces. But now those bite sized peices are just a finger flick away. Students don't even have to know how to read to receive this knowledge; video and audio recordings are released in their thousands (or millions) every day about a myriad of topics.
There is no need for the teacher to store the information like before, the content is out there and its flowing in and out of the classrooms at an increasing rate. But the content still needs unpacking. In fact, it probably needs more unpacking than ever before. This is the new skill that we teachers need to teach students - how to access and make sense of the knowledge out there and how to manipulate it in a way that brings benefit to the student.
Saturday, July 23, 2011
Thursday, July 21, 2011
In order to properly embrace the social networking paradigm teachers need to be able to distinguish between the broadcasting and intercasting tasks they perform every day, and understand the impact that technology is having on these tasks.
The idea of any technology is to enhance the task already being performed. The washing machine made it possible to wash clothing without having to exert as much physical energy and was soon made to do the task itself better than a human could do with some soap and a scrubbing board. The computer was able to collate and manipulate the data from a census quicker and more accurately than a room full of analysts. Its computational power was soon able to be used to enhance a multitude of tasks. This computational power is now being used to enhance communication abilities.
But which communication abilities?
There are two general types of communication in the classroom - broadcasting and intercasting. Broadcasting is the model used by teachers to insert the knowledge of the ages into the minds of students. Teachers have used a myriad of technologies over recent decades to enhance this process - radio, television, VCR and YouTube. This is also where the Interactive Whiteboard is used. Intercasting in the classroom has been the teacher talking one-on-one with the student or the teacher implementing some form of group work. The technology of intercasting is social networking and the tablet.
The issue for teachers at this stage is one of control. Up until now teachers have been able to control the flow of communication to the student in their classroom. Teachers controlled the broadcast, by ensuring the attention of a captive audience towards a specific flow of information from the voice, chalkboard, radio, television, whiteboard or YouTube via the interactive whiteboard. Teachers controlled the intercast by limiting the off topic talking between students and by deciding on the structure of group tasks. Social networking and the tablet takes the communication of the classroom beyond the walls of the classroom. A network of knowledge holders is just a fingertip swipe away from a deeply connected student in the classroom; and the action is barely visible in a classroom where phones aren't allowed, let alone in a classroom where the tablet forms part of the desk.
And that's the crux of the matter, the teacher is no longer the only knowledge holder in the classroom. There is a plethora of knowledge holders out there available to the student in the classroom. We have known for a while that students are able to discover their own learning while interacting with other students in the classroom but we were able to direct that learning through control of the broadcast and our physical presence. Now we have to learn how to direct the learning without being able to control who is delivering the knowledge or how it is being delivered.
A difficult task indeed.
Posted by Allan Quartly at 1:47 AM
Saturday, July 16, 2011
We all know the kids I'm talking about - wander in and out when they feel like it, if they turn up at all; worst of all, you dread when they do turn up because the class runs well when they aren't there. When you wander around the school in your spare time (spare time??) they are usually outside the classroom, often not their own classroom either, but outside some other classroom making silly faces through the window. They throw things around the classroom, yell out insults, swear profusely and often get into real and pretend fights. They've been on every level in the discipline system and suspended twice already, and its only term one.
Where do you start with these kids?
1. Before you can get them inside your boundaries, you have to find out where they have their boundaries.
As every parent will tell you, its about boundaries. Children not only need boundaries, they constantly live within boundaries. If the boundaries outside of school (or in other classrooms, for that matter) are different to the boundaries you expect, then you have an immediate problem. Its no use expecting a kid to obey your classroom boundaries if the kid already lives outside them. It can be a bit like putting up a fence for your sheep when they're over the next hill enjoying their lunch. They're not going to put themselves inside your sparkly new fence, you're going to have to go and get them.
So you have to find out what they see as their limit. And the only way to do this is to observe and interact with the kid. If a kid swears at you it doesn't necessarily mean that they are behaving outside the boundaries set by others in their life. When this happens, just ask the kid, "Would you speak like that to your mother?" If the kid answers yes then you know that swearing is accepted in their home. If the kids says, "My mother swears worse than me," then you know swearing is definitely allowed in their home. Whether or not you agree with the way a child is reared has no impact on the reality of that child's life. It is not the teacher's role to rear the child, it is their job to get them in the classroom behaving in a manner which is conducive to learning.
You are now over the hill where the sheep are grazing.
2. Tell them what you expect, give them respect, teach them how to learn
Finding their boundaries doesn't mean you don't have your classroom rules in place while you're finding these boundaries, you should always maintain a strong set behaviour expectations for all your students. Just don't expect every child to come to your classroom with the same set of rules in their heads. You will need to explain your expectations to them, as well as the consequences should they step outside them. Try not to compare your expectations with how they behave outside your classroom. A simple, "In my classroom I expect you to talk without swearing," is enough to set the boundary.
But its more than telling them, its also teaching them. Just like with the Assessment for Learning cycle, you've assessed what they know and can do (their boundaries), you know what knowledge and skills they need (your boundaries and how to function in the classroom), now you need to set activities for them that takes them from current knowledge and skills to new knowledge and skills.
Most of this teaching can be informal, mostly out in the playground, during sport or other places away from the classroom. You can cajole them, argue with them, even let them get away with behaviour you wouldn't allow in your classroom. At other times it can be whole class lessons on behaviour, so long as it is about how everyone should behave, not about that student's behaviour in particular. Some of the time it will be one on one outside the classroom, inside the classroom during detention, at the student's desk or at your desk.
Along the way they will keep testing your boundaries, much like sheep try to avoid being rounded up. But stay persistent, pull up their misbehaviour consistently and follow-up with consequences. Whenever they do as they're asked say thank you.
You're rounding the sheep up, they're heading in the right direction.
3. Expect them to do well, teach them to overcome hurdles
Along the way, as you try to corral the kid through the gate, there are going to be some problems. Other kids are going to stir them up, push them out the way, brag about how better they are at doing things in the classroom. Most kids who don't want to be in your classroom have very good reasons. Usually its the feeling of failure they have built up over the years. They have gotten to the stage where it is easier to face punishment than it is to try and fit in. This means that any difficulties can seem like insurmountable hurdles to them. They will undoubtably revert to past behaviour when the going gets tough.
Congratulate every achievement, no matter how small. Sometimes just a smile is enough. Encourage resilience. Teach them that to learn they must try. Remind them of the time they did try and succeeded, even if it is not class related. For instance, ask if they remember when they couldn't kick a ball properly, then remind them that after lots of practise they got there, and now they can kick a ball really well.
You've got the sheep in the pen but they're restless and keep escaping. You have to keep going out and getting them.
You will know that you have reached the kid when they stay behind after the bell and tell you about something they realised in your class that was beyond what you taught. When you reach these kids they usually can't wait to tell you what they've learnt and show you how smart they are. There is no greater feeling.
You've got the sheep feeding out of your hand.
Posted by Allan Quartly at 12:17 AM