Teaching was never supposed to be this difficult. You get a degree, some training, someone hires you, you get your own room, you gain experience, you have a bank of lesson plans… it should be a simple thirty year journey at that point. So what happened? When did teaching get so complicated? Why does it feel like some rich country club owners are getting ready to take it all away? Everything you spent so much time on?
But these guys aren’t the problem for most teachers, at least not the daily problem. The real problem is these “out-of-towners” who seem so friendly. The assistant principal, the online TOSA, the tech specialist waxing poetically about the next great thing at a conference or online. Here is the treasure map they give you.
ThingLink created by TOSA Chris Long [Nicest guy you’ll ever meet ™] This is full of helpful links to different choices.
Now some teachers are really stoked on that treasure map. Some teachers would say thanks for the possibilities, but other teachers are like: “Holy smokes. What am I supposed to do with that treasure map? Where do I even start?” Not to mention that the map is constantly changing. I just want to teach Grapes Of Wrath, why do I have to learn about a new app every semester? Some “ambassadors” wave around their new tech find like shiny gold and for some teachers it is gold, but for other teachers they look at the “treasure” and see this.
It might even make you feel like you are eventually going to be replaced by something a little more at home with using technology to solve problems. [you won’t… maybe]
Now I know the TOSAs mean well. I know lots of TOSAs, and many of them, like Chris Long, are some of the nicest people I know, but these options are just overwhelming. I know Chris works every day to help us navigate this adventure, but there’s just one of him… for 600+ district teachers. How do we solve this? How do we keep teaching when change is clearly on the horizon? Well… it’s going to take some advice from the Gooniest guy I know.
And the fearless faith and determination of a group of young kids.
Not those kids….
So what did Jon say that made such a difference?
David, teachers don’t have to be tech experts, they just need to be willing to let their kids use THEIR tech expertise to address curriculum. The teacher is the content expert, not the tech expert. –Jon Corippo
Did you get that? You DON’T need to learn every program and app out there. YOU don’t need to teach your students how to use all of the apps out there. All you have to do is tell your students what you want them to do and then let THEM find the way.
I would also add that teachers should be more than content experts. They should model how to find and approach new learning opportunities. Students should be able to see HOW we notice, question, make connections, bring things together, investigate and then what do we DO with this new learning; we should be content experts and process experts, but if our students are to take over for us, we need to let them take charge, it’s their time now.
The next time you see sky, it’ll be over another town. The next time you take a test, it’ll be in some other school. Our parents, they want the bestest stuff for us. But right now they gotta do what’s right for them, ’cause it’s their time. Their time, up there. Down here it’s our time. It’s our time down here.
So what does that look like in real life? Let me show you. I’ll use The Great Gatsby.
Gatsby works perfect for this “choose your own adventure” style activity. It’s only nine chapters long. 37 students divided up into 9 groups of 4 or 3 students works well for everyone. I told every group that they would be in charge of creating an activity for each chapter of Gatsby. Notice I didn’t say teach… I said “run an activity.” I’m the teacher. I’m the content expert. I still read passages with my students. We did close readings together. We talked about key parts, but THEY created the path through the book. They could pick any activity as long as it was appropriate, and memorable.
I created a master menu of possible activities, but they were free to create ANYTHING they wanted to. I also created a reading/activity schedule. Students were supposed to read the chapter before we did the activity… more on that later. I gave extra credit to the group that went first since they had so little time to get ready. They also had first dibs on any activity. I also had them do a reflection on what they did to create the activity, their thoughts about the activity, their work during other activities, and any advice for me for next time. I graded them after reading the reflections. I did make one major mistake and several small ones, but we will get to those later. So how did it go? I’ll let them tell their own story, in their words.
While reading the book The Great Gatsby, you gave us each the task of assigning ourselves to a chapter and an activity. We got to choose our chapter and our activity which I personally really enjoyed. For my group, we chose chapter one and we decided to have the class pick their favorite scene from it, and reenact them. They then went on to post them on Twitter using the hashtag #ideafm. I really liked how creative my fellow classmates got with this. They used what little resources were given to them, and made such masterpieces that were very enjoyable.
I thought that doing this video would really engage and help push some of my quieter peers into being more open. Not everyone in the class was in a group of people they knew, so I thought this would be perfect! It takes teamwork and communication to film. Some students might not have read or didn’t finish this chapter so it gave them an opportunity to talk and listen. In the end, I feel the best part, by far, was getting to watch these clips in class as a whole. It really made me happy to see the class react as one and laugh together, not at each other.
From all of the different and creative assignments, I learned communication, critical thinking, and how to be a better listener. In order to have 4 pieces of a project come together flawlessly, there needs to be a point where everything becomes one. We had to learn each others paces, how to talk to each other in an effective way, how to work together, and how to listen.
He did his reflection via a Google Slide
“The year in this class overall was very unique, we’ve done things that I’ve never done in any other class. I especially liked that for this book, we didn’t just sit in class, read, then take an assessment. I thought it was really cool and interesting that we were able to choose the activity to run for the class. It’d be a good idea to it again next year.”
Tara: “Reading the Great Gatsby was very interesting. I knew that I would read The Great Gatsby this year, but I didn’t know what it was about. From the movie trailer, I assumed that it was just about drugs and partying. I wasn’t interested in the book or reading it because of the trailer. I thought the book would be exactly what was shown in the trailer for the movie. I was wrong. But the trailer shows the aesthetics of the 20s and the drama. I was glad that I read this book in class because the activities definitely helped me engage with each chapter and understand the characters more.”
Was everyone happy with the project? Of course not. Here are a few reminders that not everything works for everyone:
“Honestly I didn’t do much for the project. When I opened the google doc to add to the wordsearch, Yen and Merna had already finished. So, I was left in charge of bringing the prize (sour skittles). I tried to contribute as much as I could but, there isn’t much to do for a word search.
A memorable activity we did was for chapter 9. It was memorable because we broke the light. It wasn’t only memorable because it smelt like burning plastic but when we started to do the activity outside the group leaders were really angry that no one was listening. They were trying to organize the students who were still in the game, but you know our class, you have to tell us five times to do something before we actually do it. But the girls had enough fooling around and they yelled which was okay because the kids were being jerks. They didn’t yell at us but they wanted to get our attention. Another memorable presentation was when we sat in the circle and we had to answer trivia questions. This was memorable because most of the class didn’t read the chapter and you could tell. It was a little upsetting to see how many kids didn’t read. It was also memorable because they gave out good prizes.
If you decide to do this project again, I suggest having random reading quizzes so everyone actually reads the chapter. I also suggest giving more warning when people are presenting their chapters so people know when they should be done reading by. It was hard to know when people were presenting because you always let them go later and it was also confusing because of SBAC.”
David’s note. Even though this group did a word search, if you read the reflection of the student who made the word search, she learned a TON about making word searches, which just goes to show you that if you are going to ask students to engage in DOK1 level activities, at least have THEM do the creation of those so they can learn a little more.
Next year, I suggest making sure that each group makes their activities directly related to the contents of the book, and that each group properly organized their class activity beforehand. It seemed like a decent amount of the class activities we completed were not related to the book, were not properly organized beforehand, or were not well thought out. This assignment, with some refinement, could prove itself to be more a effective learning tool and a more fun, enjoyable experience for the students.
Yes… it’s time to reflect. I made a few mistakes. The biggest one was that I didn’t help my groups create a lesson plan before they had us do the activity. I’m going to fix that this time. I’m going to ask my groups to submit an activity guide that I’m calling T.A.C.O.S. for now. Here’s version 1.0. I’m looking to improve on this on Monday with the help of Sean.
I’m never going to let the fear of a mistake keep me from trying something, but I also don’t like making mistakes. I eventually want to get it right.
Andi: Oh my God, I hit the wrong key! I made a mistake!
Mikey: Andi, it is okay to make mistakes. We all do. Just do not make any more.
I also heard from several students how frustrating it was that their classmates didn’t do the reading before hand. It’s sad, but kinda comforting to know that we ALL experience the disappointment of students not reading. I’ll address that in my next blog post. Overall students were able to empathize with me when it came to running class and I think some of them had a newfound appreciation for what we do. That’s a good thing for sure.
I don’t have precise “Data” on the effectiveness of this approach, but it felt like this:
Now you may have noticed something. You might have noticed that not all of the ideas involved technology and that was the problem we were talking about at the beginning of this blog post.
I agree with William, I’m a big fan of using analog in the classroom and for professional development. I don’t think you need to be digital at all unless your job or boss “teacher” requires it, but there are some advantages to trying to add some tech in your life.
- Reaching an audience beyond the classroom
- Saving money- photocopying, website creation
- Helping students look good (there are some cool tools for this)
- Getting them ready for the future: social media tools & content creation tools
- Letting students use the tools they are familiar the tools they live with and showing them how they can use them in different ways
- Using digital tools can help you create a bunch of variations on a single creation and see what works best
- Using digital tools can sometimes teach you something new about how to approach analog creation
- Using any new tool can keep your mind sharp and on its toes.
- Using unfamiliar tools reminds us of what it’s like to struggle to learn something new.
If you want to dig deeper, here are a few full student reflections. These are not graded and these students no longer attend FVHS. There’s some good stuff in here. But trust in the kids, they might just surprise you in what they can accomplish. I’m a believer.
PS: see if your local TOSA or “tech guru” can make a treasure map for your STUDENTS.