Monday, March 5, 2012

Don't you want that information?


by Sean Wheeler

There are really three main ways that information gets transmitted in a traditional classroom.

#1 - Raising Hands
The most often used method is through a teacher-led discourse in which students raise their hands to be called on.  The teacher uses various methods to choose who gets to speak, but rarely does everyone get called on, and there's always a social urge to not go back and call on the same student more than once.  

The problem with this is that there are kids who don't raise their hands, or choose not to participate in some manner.  That, or time simply doesn't allow for all of our students to contribute to the conversation.  A good deal of untapped thinking walks out our doors when that 40 minute bell rings.  

#2 - Group Work
When students work in groups, really good things can happen.  Students have an opportunity for peer-to-peer learning.  The teaching and learning naturally become more problem or discussion based.  And students gain a sense of how to work with one another collaboratively.  The teacher moves about the room, participating and prompting where needed, catching bits and pieces of entire conversations.

But what if one group is firing all cylinders while another group struggles because of the social dynamics or preparedness, or a host of other possibilities?  Why should some students, by sheer luck of the draw, get stuck in groups that they can't get out of?  To look at it another way, why should my child not learn as much today as someone in a different group?  What did my child do to get cheated like that?  The other issue is that the teacher can't be everywhere, so again, information goes unnoticed all over the place.  Maybe someone contributed something in one of the groups that was brilliant, but the teacher missed the chance to work with that idea because they were busy coaxing a classmate to get off the cell phone.  

#3 - Write It Down, Turn It In.

Sometimes teachers do need to hear from every student to assess individual learning.  This is traditionally done in the format of homework, exit tickets, quizzes, tests, etc.  The whole group receives some prompt or task and they write their response on paper and turn it in.  The teacher grades it or provides feedback.  Students get their papers back, put them in the backpack, lost forever to time.  

Only one person winds up benefitting from what everyone knows in the classroom, and that person is the one in the room who probably needs to learn from that information the least.  The teacher gets to know what everyone else knows but the students get no benefit from the responses of their peers.  Perhaps having that information would help kids who were still formulating their ideas or learning the concepts being taught.


CC licensed by Hyperakt
None of the above is anybody's fault really.  We've been doing the best with what we have, and I believe strongly that our teachers have been doing great work.  This isn't about who is to blame, it's about whether or not we want all of the information we're losing by doing what we've done for so long.  The three systems we have are the three systems that have had to exist because it's been impossible to do otherwise.  

When my students interact in our online space, I get all of the information.  And so does everybody else.  Every group that works together online, is visible and open to input from each other group. If a student is stuck in a bad group, they don't have to be.  If a student wants to join the conversations of the other groups at some other time, they still can.  No information is lost to that student.  The teacher can see the work of the whole group, each one of them, and can also assess each contribution by each student.  If a student revises their thinking, they are not bound eternally to it because they spoke it out loud in class and never got called on to voice their change of thinking or deeper reflection.  My students aren't limited to formulating complex thought right away either.  They can really take the time to formulate their thoughts before they type, and kids who need a bit more process have the time because there are no bells in our online classroom.  

And the kids that don't get called on or never participate in class get a voice.  The student too embarrassed to talk in class can directly instant message me with thoughts, the kid that needs more help or clarification can ask for that help without the stigma of "slowing the class down".  Every one of my students can work with me individually as needed all the time.  

I have to admit that dealing with all of that information can be overwhelming.  Providing feedback at that level takes time.  Getting the whole online thing up and running takes patience and persistence. But if we can capture the learning of every one of our students, don't we want that information?






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