Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Reflections of a Paperless Class- Part 2

After a month of paperless classes, learning was going strong. Here are 5 of my most meaningful observations:

1- Students with organizational issues were excelling using their 'digital backpacks' and were championing their time management. (Ironically those same students weren't necessarily excelling in their other subjects.) Two students who I spoke with mentioned they enjoyed learning with a computer and they felt good about themselves because they were staying organized with their digital backpacks. They also liked how assignments were laid out for the entire trimester on Edmodo so they were able to slowly chip away one assignment at a time and feel good about working towards a goal of finishing all the material. I never thought that digital learning could be equated with self esteem building!

2- There was genuine collaboration in the classroom. My classroom is entirely student-centered. One of my mantras this year is to collaborate on many levels. For example, before a student can ask me a question they first have to ask their peers. At first students did not like this and didn't always feel comfortable asking their peers for assistance. A month in and students are up and about the computer lab asking each other questions, learning from another, sharing with each other. Students that may have been ignored or were quiet in the past were now able to engage in discussions in a mature and meaningful way.

3- There was deeper learning taking place. How often do we observe educators lecturing with 25% of the class sleeping, 25% spaced out, 25% doodling and 25% passively listening? I found students were actively engaged, and using their brains- all with little to none frontal lecturing. (Again I will say I have had a few students mention they miss daily lectures but when I called them on the carpet they said it was because they didn't have to learn as deep.) Students were blogging about their learning and there were conversations taking place over the material learned for weeks at a time. No I mean that literally. In my Bible/Chumash classes for each trimester students are responsible to submit 5 blog posts and 5 blog comment posts over the material they learned. ( Students use the blog rubrics pre-loaded into their digital rubric folder on Edmodo to guide and grade them)  Students submit the blogposts to the entire class so everyone reads them and responds. One of the first blogposts submitted to the class was a discussion involving miracles in ancient times verses nowadays. The actual class was 45 minutes. The blog discussions continued over the next 16 days. Deeper learning.

4- Too much digital learning ='s not enough face to face teacher-student relationship building/bonding. A few parents really wanted their children to develop strong bonds (kesher in Hebrew) with their Judaic teachers and felt too much time in front of the computer didn't lend to this goal. Being that my mantra is be a role model first and an educator second I understood what the parents concern but also felt the pull of completing curricular goals. In fact the whole reason for going paperless was to create an environment truly conducive to excellence in education! At the end of the day connecting and inspiring students was very important however I also was not ready to go back to primarily frontal lecturing where only mid-high level students were engaged (Actually I think most were parents of mid-high level learners who requested more bonding time with the students.) I began thinking about how to carve out more live group discussion time that wasn't bogged down with too much frontal teaching and more or less maintained the pace of the curriculum.

5- The technology I was using really fleshed out the different learner levels in my classes and forced me to think through what my goals should be for all learner levels. Because everything was on the computer everything was documented. This held my students to a much higher level of accountability but all the more so for myself! I primarily found myself struggling with what the goals should be for students who were at the lower end of totem pole. Realistically an educator can't assume that all students will finish the material with the same level of understanding. The ultimate goal was to make students life long learners be it collaboratively or independently. How could I further adjust my lessons to truly differentiate instruction?

I had other observations as well but these were the big ones that stuck out. Next up was to analyze student assessments as by this time there had already been a few. Would digital learning assist or hinder student assessment performance?

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