Monthly Archives: June 2010

Heading to Denver

I leave tomorrow for the ISTE (International Society of Technology in Education), the organization that published my article, “Join the Flock”, about using Twitter to build a Professional Learning Network. I created a website to record what I am learning there, which you are welcome to visit. I may have time to write a reflection while I am there, but I am not counting on it, as my time is going to be very busy. I will definitely be getting lots of ideas for future posts. If you are going to be at ISTE, send me a tweet, @hadleyjf. I would love to meet you.

It is all about hard work!

While cleaning my classroom, I got thinking about my goals for next year. What do I want as my underlying focus? I realized that what I wanted most was to teach each student the value of hard work. When I say that I don’t mean how to do mountains of homework, read hundreds of pages and churn out lots of worksheets. It is more that I want to teach them to set academic and personal goals for themselves, ones that they care about and then help them learn how to do the necessary brain work to achieve them. It is only through identifying a goal and committing to the hard work that is necessary that each of them will succeed. Most of my students know that it takes “hard work,” but they often have no idea how to go about it successfully.

That is not all their fault. Modern life makes many of the answers to their questions or attainment of their desires instantaneous. It is not simply because of Google, though it starts there. If they are confused or want some information, they can simply “google” it. There is no need to bike to the library, search in a card catalogue, find the book, look through the index and then search for the word on the page, in the hopes that this page will cover this topic. Now while I am clearly exaggerating for emphasis, it did used to be harder to gather information. When the answer was not immediately, each student needed to spend more time focused both on the question and on the answer. That recall and pondering was the foundation of critical thinking. It demanded active engagement. “Where can I go to find this information?”

Then there is access to their music, to their friends. through their phones, they can immediately be in contact with whomever they want with a quick text. There is no need to find a pay phone or even walk into another room. They can listen to whatever music they want whenever the mood strikes. Again, no need to wait for the song on the radio or to go to the record player or boom box to make it happen. And there is definitely no need to be tied to one space while they are listening. They can have what they want where they want it at any moment.

So how do we, as educators tackle this. There is no going back, and the ways that we taught them to be dedicated students in the past need to adapt to the current realities. The brain takes repetition and reflection to grow. It needs for the neural pathways to be accessed repeatedly to make a solid memory. So how do we train kids to do that work, to not expect to learn quickly but to tackle the more challenging work of learning?

What are the components of the hard work of learning? The first ingredient is time. To be a hard worker, you must be willing to put in time. It simply takes time to make anything happen. I want to be more deliberate next year in explaining how long each task should take. Perhaps in September, they could each set timers when they are doing an assignment and see how long it takes them. Together, we can then set the time and identify the time and place when the task can be done.

This leads to another aspect of hard work, which is focus. It is difficult to successfully accomplish a task without a focus on that goal. If one is distracted and not attentive to the steps involved, it is not possible for the brain to make the necessary connections. I want to think about lessons that will show the students what they can achieve when really focused, when they can practically feel their brains working. They should be short and interesting, challenges that they want to accomplish.  Then there need to be lessons that have distractions built in them, ones where maintaining their focus on the goal will be difficult. I want to give an assignment where they track their attention spans while working at school and at home. How long could they stay on task without looking up, chatting with a friend, etc.? When do they need a break? The goal is to help them organize their study time, so that they can identify how long they can stay on task, how long they can do the work of being a student.

I would then add determination. Most successes are achieved by powering through the times of discouragement and frustration. A desire to reach the goal is not optional, but is at the heart of the effort. For weaker students, there is often no sense that success is even possible. They know that this task, like the one before it, is one where they will try and fail. By middle school, those students have had enough learning experiences where they were left behind to have lost heart. It is at the heart of our job to give them hope. We must provide enough differentiation that they are able to gain a foothold, no matter how small, so that they can begin to see the possibility of learning. I have said it before, but there is no a student out there who wants to be seen as the stupid one in the class. They would all like to be the “smartest” in the class. We have to provide all students, no matter what their strengths or challenges, with experiences that allow them to feel the joy of learning, because success is addicting. If they can have a few of those times, then they will be willing to take on the hard work of learning. They will strive to have more success, and we have them hooked. They begin to generate their own determination.

I know that a key ingredient in teaching students to be hard workers is to be one myself. If I am a lazy teacher, I can never teach my students to be dedicated to their learning. I must show a passion for my own learning and a commitment to theirs. Lessons must be well-planned; papers must be promptly graded. And I have to show them each day that I am glad to share their journey with them.

So I am thinking about hard work this summer. I would love to know your thoughts!

To Blog or Not to Blog?

That is the question, especially in Philadelphia where a teacher lost her job because of what she wrote on her blog. I don’t want to write about her but about what it means to be writing about education in a 2.0 world. The Philadelphia Inquirer quoted Chris Lehmann, who it turns out was quoting Christian Long, in saying that if you don’t want to shout it in a crowded hallway for all to hear, you should not be including it on your blog. Every word that we publish goes out to the world, and when we, as educators, write our thoughts, the audience is not anonymous. The audience has the potential to be full of other educators, parents and as well as the general public. The ability in today’s world for teachers to learn from each other is so significant. We do not need to master it all; we can join together to develop the best for our students. We need to share our successes and our failures, so that we will all become stronger in our practice.

While it can be tricky to write about school and students, it is possible if you are alert. The issue from an earlier post of “First Do No Harm” applies equally here. We must only speak about students in ways that build them up. We must be as fiercely protective of each student as a mother bear is of her cubs. If there is a discussion about fault or something that went wrong in the classroom, it needs to be the teacher who is accepting responsibility. There is plenty to write about how a lesson could have been taught in a better way or what a teacher learned from a mistake.

Sitting in front of a computer makes writing feel very private, almost like writing in a diary. And it can be that, as long as the Publish button is not pushed. It is only the author’s at those times. But the moment that the decision is made to present your ideas to the world, to push the Publish button, the distance and anonymity evaporate. Your thoughts are there for all of the world to read and respond to. That is the wonder and the possible horror of blogging. We each explore and then expose our thinking for all to see. It becomes part of the public record, gone from the safety of our private world.

Unlike in daily conversation, however, as a blogger, I am not there when my words are read. They have to stand alone and explain my thinking. If I rush to send my words out, or if I respond too quickly to an event in my life, I run the risk of speaking without clarity or without wisdom. We need to read and review each post to make sure we are attaining the highest possible standards when speaking about students.

Blogging is a wonderful way for educators to share their insights and frustrations with teaching in the 21st century. We can grow together and adapt to the changing world as we support each other. We just need to remember that our audience has the potential to be vast. If you don’t want your principal, your parent body, your friends to be reading your entries, do not write them, or write them and do not publish them. It is critical as educators that we model the best uses of the internet. We do not want a backlash from administrators, worried that they can not trust their teachers. We want to demonstrate the benefits to our practice and those of other teachers when we listen and learn from each other.

The Edge of Slippery Slope

Homeroom this morning started with two students talking about the Acceptable Use policy at school. It was their “punishment” for being caught watching a fun and catchy YouTube video during a study hall. It was one of those videos with fun music and lots of words that simply are not allowed in school. The students knew right away when they were discovered that they were on an inappropriate site, even if it was a fairly tame infraction.

After the students led a brief discussion about Acceptable Use, I asked the class if they had heard the term “a slippery slope.” Much to my surprise, it was not a familiar one to them, so I created a bit of a mind picture for you. “You are standing at the top of a hill. Imagine that the hill has been greased with oil. You take a small step onto it. Where do you end up?”

There was no hesitation. “At the bottom.”

We all nodded together. “To stay within the Acceptable Use policy, you have to be able to know when you are stepping on oil and when you are not. That is the whole point of the document, to help you know how to stay on solid ground. So, tell me, where are the Slippery Slopes that you know of on the internet?” I really wanted them to identify them, so that they could take ownership of the fact that they truly knew where to go and what to stay away from.

“Bubble game.”

“Hulu”

“Stores that let you design clothes”

“YouTube.”

At that, I stopped the conversation. “So is YouTube bad? Should you stay away from it?”

Luckily they quickly described the difference. “There are ways to use it for school and ways to use it that aren’t.” Lots of smiles!

“When you are there to find documentaries to support research, that is awesome. But what else can you do there that would send you sliding?”

“Watch TV shows.”

“Look at music videos”

“Check up on movie stars.”

“Exactly! And while it is possible for the Tech Department to take the laptops and find out what you have done on it, that is not the kind of community that we want to be.” It was time to set the bar high! Time to push the responsibility onto them, the users. “We could turn school into a police state, constantly monitoring every move you make on the computers, or we can build a community of learners that work together for the good of the school. That is the goal for you. Are you willing to be part of building a strong community, based on rules but not dominated by them? It really is up to you!”

Now we will see!