Friday, December 15, 2006

This Is Not Education As Usual

It's always interesting when other folks come observe some of the things we are doing in our classes. Not only to see and hear their reactions, but to see how our students respond to them. On Monday we had a school board member, the Director of Elementary Education, the Assistant Director of Instructional Technology, and several elementary teachers come visit Anne's fourth period English World Literature Class and Brad's fifth period AP Government Class (both classes using laptops as part of their lesson). This was the first time that visitors had really seen upperclassmen using the laptops - it has usually been freshmen classes - so I was curious to see how it would go.

Well, our visitors were suitably impressed (as they usually are with our students, with or without the laptop piece). I think the best part was at the end of fourth period when there was about a minute left and the school board member asked the students what they felt was different about their class this year. She said later she was expecting maybe one or two hands to go up, but about 15 went up instead. There was no way they were all going to get a chance to voice their opinion, so the immediate response by the class was "blog it!" You should really take the time to read through the 23 thoughtful comments by the English World Literature students regarding the changes they have seen due to constructivist teaching/learning, fishbowl technique, and technology.

Anne also asked a couple of her freshmen classes to basically address the same question by reflecting back on their learning this semester. Check out the 25 comments in Period 2 and the 25 comments in Period 5, it will be well worth your time. I'll excerpt just a few of them here (it was hard to pick, there were so many thoughtful comments to choose from).
Hannah J said . . . I also think that my education has definitely been strengthened by the use of the laptops and doing the fishbowls. You get to hear other people's opinions about situations in the book we're reading or connections they've made that you might have not even thought about. In normal classes, you hardly ever get to hear someone else's opinion or sometimes you might not even get to make your own. What you need to think is fed to you from the teacher and you don't have a choice of whether you want to believe that or not.

Brian G said . . . One huge change I saw in my learning this semester in my education was the ability to direct my own learning. In this class, we were given many freedoms that other classes did not allow. We directed where we were going and we decided how we were going to do many things, not only as a class but as individuals as well. In this class there was no rubric, and there wasn’t someone there to hold your hand and help you through everything. In this class, we had to responsible for our assignments, and had to do many things on our own . . . The technology gave us more independence and put more responsibility on us.

Endsley E said . . . Using the laptops also helped me to become more of a producer of information instead of a consumer. In previous years I would rely on the teacher to provide me with all the information. But now I take more and more of my learning into my own hands. I don’t think I would ever be this independent with my learning if it hadn’t been for the laptops.

Kathryn T said . . .Over the semester I have found that my education has changed a decent amount, partially because of the technology, and mostly because of the way we run this class. As producers of information, I feel that I have become more outspoken and it is easier for me to talk to a group. In class, with the technology, we have more freedom and we have learned to take control of our learning. With the fishbowl discussions, we use our own knowledge and do not rely on everyone else to lead us. I tend to take more of a leadership role now than I ever had in the past, and it is showing up in my everyday life. With the freedom we have, it is a lot easier and a lot more fun to take control of the classroom, instead of just following a regular routine of just listening and answering questions that the teacher asks. We ask our own questions and seek to answer them ourselves.

Zach F said . . . This semester I have changed the way I go about my education, if there is something I want to know I don't wait for someone to teach it to me. I now take the initiative of finding the information I want to know about. . . The constructivist philosophy made me more interested in the things I was learning in class. I found myself wanting to know more, not only for my benefit but for the benefit of my classmates. I was able to present the information produced to my class and my classmates were able to do the same thing. When we are able to collaborate on all the information we gather it makes all of us smarter.

Riley S. said . . . Along with the technology learning piece of my education so far, I can take charge of my education more and receive what I put in. As a class, fifth hour, Mrs. Smith likes to say that we teach ourselves most of the time and I have to say that it feels good knowing that I am learning and growing. . . Now, with the need to study and take charge of my education I feel I am actually creating a future for myself. After all, technology will be a huge part of the future when the time comes and I intend to be ready.

Tom R said . . . open-ended assignments and (somewhat) less emphasis on grades decreases stress and makes me not dread school quite as much. I still hope for more opportunity to pursue what I want to pursue and learn what I want to learn in the future, for certain. . . I want every classroom environment to be as flexible and comfortable as this one, more than anything.

Ty C. said . . . This class has been the hardest of any of my classes so far, but it is also the best one.

Kenna D said . . . The laptops have been such a gift. We have been able to do so much more in class research and discussion because of it. Learning has been much more hands on, and as students, we have learned how to teach each other in the best way fit for the whole class. I have learned so much not only from Ms. Smith, but from my fellow classmates. And the technology that has been provided for us has made learning so much more fun. We have been taught how to teach not only each other, but ourselves. This is NOT education as usual.

Emily L. said . . . What really amazes me is that I taught myself these things. The situation arose and I found myself ready to come and meet the challenge head on. I was used to being walked through the process of learning something new and know I can do it myself.
Like most teachers at this point in the semester, I sometimes get a little discouraged. We're all tired, it's crunch time, and we tend to focus on the things that aren't going well or the students that we haven't been as successful with as we'd like. Sometimes, though, we need to step back and focus on what has gone well. And listening to our students voice their opinions through these 73 comments - even though not all of them are positive - is a powerful thing. Because even those students who express concerns are actively participating in their own education, trying to make it better for themselves, their classmates, and those that follow. And that's a good thing. So, thanks guys , 73 times.

1 comment:

  1. Karl & Company - Just wanted to let you all know how amazing you all are with your own learning as well as student learning. After visiting with you, and Anne's and Brad's classes, I have spent quite a bit of time reading The Fischbowl, which of course has expanded my thinking and desire to learn more. Thank you all (coaches, students, teachers, etc.) for the important work you are doing. I'll stay tuned, Renee