Monday, December 23, 2013

Reflections on My First Semester in a 1:1 Classroom

Blogging during speech season while taking grad classes seems to be a near impossible task.  Needless to say, it has been a while since I've posted anything.  The speech season begins the first week of August and runs through February.  Coaching is one of the most rewarding aspects of my life, and while it leaves me tired all the time, the relationships built with my speech team kiddos and the amount of personal and performance growth that I see in them each year is certainly worth the lack of sleep.

Now with a bit of a break from school and from speech (sans the practice we're having later this afternoon... and Friday), I want to spend this time reflecting on my first semester in a 1:1 Chromebook classroom.  Integrating technology into a classroom setting is certainly a mind shift that requires a great deal of thought as to how lessons are constructed, what learning outcomes can be accomplished, and what role the students will now take in their own learning.

This semester I have found myself retooling and reevaluating what I ask students to do and why.  Considering the purpose has not only been an important reflective exercise for me, but it has also encouraged me to have meaningful conversations with students about why we are learning what we are and how the activities that we do in class will help them to develop and refine essential reading, writing, and communication skills that they will need not only in school, but they will also need these skills in their professional lives.  From what I've learned in the past six years as an educator and communicator, teaching or public speaking is not about the educator or presenter; it is about how the students or receivers are experiencing the message. In a 1:1 setting, I often start my classes with a short lecture or presentation of what we will be learning and doing, and the rest of the time is for them to process, reflect, and accomplish the desired learning outcomes.  The focus is on the student, and now more than ever, students are in charge of their own learning.

One of the biggest concerns that teachers often seem to have is how this will impact their classroom.  Classroom management changes.  Many conversations I've had with colleagues often seem to stem back to the idea that students will be more inclined to become off-task.  Yes, students will inevitably want to play music on YouTube, find themselves playing games, or may simply surf the web.  The novelty wear off... quickly.  Through conversations with students, they learn very quickly that how they choose to spend their time in class directly impacts what they need to accomplish outside of class.  In addition, when the internet is running slow, they've come to realize that if people in class are off-task online, they're essentially stealing bandwidth from their friends.  As such, they end up policing themselves and encouraging those with whom they should be collaborating on a given assignment, to make meaningful contributions.  While there certainly appear to be differences in classroom management, my style of running my classroom really hasn't changed too drastically.  Positivity, patience, and proactive conversations about how/why we are learning what we are goes a long way, especially with high school students.

This break, I hope to truly examine the best lessons I've experienced with students this semester and to write more about those. My teaching life has changed so much, and I truly believe that the 1:1 setting empowers students and provides them with even more authentic experiences to grow their literacy skills.

What I've learned from this experience:
  1. There are infinite opportunity to collaborate between students, the teacher, and the outside world.
  2. Students will write more.  Typing is faster than handwriting, and when students know that others are reading what they are writing, they feel a great sense of accountability for what they produce. 
  3. Students will read more.  They will have access to online resources and databases.  They do need to be taught to discern between inaccurate and credible sources, and that type of coaching will take time.  When students can decipher what makes a reliable website, the end results are worth the time spent. 
  4. Differentiated instruction is easier to coordinate and provide to students through digital means. 
  5. Students seem excited to share when they make real-world connections.  I cannot even count how many YouTube videos I have been emailed this semester by students who are making connections between conversations in class and what they are viewing on their own time. These emails make my day every time! 
  6. Documents cannot be lost (as long as the internet connection is working).
  7. Students are generally excited about learning and demonstrating what they know.  After the first few weeks of class, they walk in, ready to learn and excited to participate. 
  8. Even if students get off-task, they are easily redirected.
  9. Having access to all documents online from the course is incredibly helpful for students, parents, and the teacher alike. 
  10. Google Forms is awesome. I am currently trying to learn how to make rubrics in Google Forms from a good friend/colleague.  She is a rock star.  Follow her on Twitter, if you don't already.  I  have learned so much from, @irishteach.
  11. There are days when the infrastructure is down, a website changes, or the school filters block something unexpected.  Keeping an open mind, having a Plan B and a Plan C, and learning to laugh make these problems seem minuscule.  There are just as many days when a traditional paper lesson doesn't work as anticipated, too.  
  12. Closing the Chromebook is important, too.  Some learning activities are just as effective or even more effective when the devices are down.  Graded discussions are rich ways to reflect and analyze important course content.  Detoxing from the Chromebooks often makes students appreciate the learning opportunities they have while using them as well.  

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