Originally this post wasn't intended to be about the #blogamonth Feburary topic of Creating a Culture, but it turned out to be a post about creating a culture of digital learners. Enjoy!
If you would have asked me last week if I was willing to give up control of my classroom to the students, I would have said of course! I am an avocate of allowing students to take the lead. But a few things have pushed my thinking since then... Am I really willing to give up control? Really?
The above twitter conversation was sparked by Cat Flippen's (@Catflippen) keynote at the UGA Digital Learning Conference. As I read it, I nodded my head in agreement, asking myself, "Why is it so hard for teachers to let go of control in their classrooms and what does it take for them to change?"
But I was quickly faced with the truth that I wasn't as progressive as I thought. The idea that truly challenged me was from Eric Sheninger's (@NMHS_Principal) book Digital Leadership: Changing Paradigms for Changing Times.
We all know that we are teaching a new generation of digital natives. But the characteristics of these types of students wasn't as clear to me until I read the list of qualities of a digital learner that Sheninger includes early in his book. He explains the ways that digital learners want to obtain information or function vs how the traditional teacher wants to spend the lesson. Sheninger writes:
Digital learners prefer parallel processing and multitasking, but many educators prefer linear processing and single tasks or limited multitasking.
I am guilty of this! Just last week, we were working on essays on Google drive and when a student asked me if she could share her essay with a friend in the class, I told her "No. Not until you have finished drafting. You still have a few key parts to include." Well, granted, even though this student really did have more work to do on the essay, I am now asking myself, why not? Why couldn't she have shared it and gotten feedback even though she wasn't done writing yet?
Real writers do this! I do this as a writer - I am always seeking feedback at every stage. I consider myself a "digital learner" like them - wouldn't I want the ability to share my work when I wanted instead of having that be controlled by the teacher?
So today, I took a different approach. I offered for my class to openly share their essays on Google drive with anyone else in the class for feedback. I allowed students to move around the room, not limiting who they work with specifically, which I was doing before, too.
Did they gravitate toward their friends? Well yes...but were they on task? Yes...even some of the more easily distracted students. They were discussing ways to help each other revise and fervently leaving comments. Were they sharing with multiple students? Yes, which provided each student multiple perspectives of feedback.
The moment I knew it was working was when I heard a shy voice speak up. There is a sweet girl in my class who is a strong student, but she is very quiet. When I conference with her about her writing, it is very hard to get her to respond even when I am praising her work. But today, her voice lept over the noise as she talked across the room to her friend, giving her friend advice on how to revise the essay. I know I had a shocked look on my face as I glanced up to see who was talking. She was embracing her role as editor and providing feedback, not just through the digitial comments, but out loud. Something had changed. Mission accomplished!
In the back of my mind, I was a little irked at the noise in the room. My inner teacher wanted to tell the class to be quiet and focus on what they were doing. My inner teacher wanted to stop conversations from continuing that seemed to be off topic. When I listened closer, students were talking about the events they are writing about in their essays. My inner teacher needed to be shhhhhushed today. She needed to embrace the fact that digital learners need a different environment to thrive in.
It’s my job as a teacher to create that environment and ultimately create a culture tailor-made for these digital learners. I still feel like I have a long way to go, but at least I know where I'm headed!
Try This Tomorrow! Ask yourself if you are still holding onto control in some areas, and if you can continue to loosen your grip. What simple change can you make to quiet your inner teacher voice and let students function more like digital learners?
My question to you is this... where is the balance between good classroom management and allowing students the freedom to learn the way they want to as digital natives? When (if ever) do you let your inner teacher come out to set boundaries and control the classroom noise, activity, etc? Also, how do you ensure that students aren’t just sharing with friends and everyone plays a part in this digital experience? Please share your thoughts below!
Allison is an K-12 Instructional Coach at Mount Pisgah Christian School near Atlanta, Ga. Her goal is to empower educators to maintain a learning mindset that encourages them to grow continually.
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