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Yes, you DO have to type your final draft.

I completed my student teaching experience at a low-income inner city high school. The school had a bad reputation for having a high gang population and “bad” kids. So, when I first announced my student teaching placement on Facebook, I was not surprised that most of my friends’ comments revolved around the reputation. One friend even joked that I should buy a bullet proof vest.

They were wrong. That school had some of the nicest kids. When I walked down the hall carrying a heavy box of books, a student I didn’t know offered to carry it to class for me. This happened on multiple occasions, with multiple students.

Needless to say, I had a fabulous student teaching year. My CT (cooperating teacher) was excellent, and taught me a lot about the importance of setting high expectations for all students. Most of our kids were English Language Learners (a.k.a. ELL’s) and were of low socioeconomic backgrounds. There have been many studies done on students who grow up in a low-income household, which you can read about here.

We required the students to create a poetry portfolio early in the second semester. I expected the final draft of the portfolio to be typed, so we spent a week in the computer lab. Many of the students did not finish typing their portfolios during the allotted class time, and as a result the final scores for the portfolios were lower than I would have liked.

While reflecting on the unit in one of my seminar classes, one of my peers suggested that by requiring the portfolio to be typed, I set the students up for failure. He pointed out that because most of my students are of a low socioeconomic background, I should not expect them to use the computers at school – especially if they do not have computers at home. After all, how could they finish the assignment without a home computer?

His response reinforced my belief that bringing computers into the classroom is vital to student success. If the students do not have computers at home, then where else will they develop the technological skills they will need as adults?

The middle school I work at now has a very similar population to the high school I just described. While I have had to spend more time teaching basic computer skills (such as how to save files to a USB drive, how to copy and paste, and how to use Google), the students are much more motivated when using the computers.

Besides, the public library provides free internet access after school and on the weekends. Since when has it become inappropriate to expect students to do something or go somewhere educational outside of school?

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The cool thing about classroom computers…

Here is the cool thing about using computers in the classroom: the kids are actually excited about it.

At the beginning of the year, I approached my computer cart with apprehension and dread. The thought of putting costly netbooks in the hands of thirty-two twelve-year-olds made me break out in a cold sweat. Visions of cracked screens, exposed wires, and electrocution flashed through my mind. I recalled the most important reason for bringing my laptop to boring lectures in college: Facebook. More specifically: Farmville. Perhaps this was my karma.

Now don’t get me wrong, I was thrilled to find out I would have a wealth of technology at my disposal. I was also terrified. I remember an assignment my last semester of student teaching where I had to design my ideal classroom layout. I had a couch, a classroom library under a wall of windows, a SmartBoard, and a computer cart, and plenty of room to add seating for forty (I had to be realistic) in the shape of a horseshoe to facilitate class discussions. I even included little footprints to show where I would stand when addressing the class.

When I showed it to my cooperating teacher (a.k.a. CT) before turning it in, she laughed. She said I would be lucky to have a classroom large enough to fit all of my students, let alone a couch, computer cart, and a SmartBoard. Well, look who is laughing now (although she was right about the couch)!

It took me about four weeks to finally break out the computers. It wasn’t that I didn’t trust the kids (I didn’t) but I didn’t trust myself to set up effective routines for handling them. We spent an entire day on how to take the computer out of the cart, how to walk with it to the desk, how to log on, and how to put them away. I exaggerated the cost of the computers to be $700 to scare the kids into behaving. Regardless, I’ve had to deal with a cracked computer screen, missing keys, and blue screens of death. Electrocution has not been an issue…yet.

In spite of the issues, the computers are the best part of my classroom. While I don’t use them every day, I can’t imagine teaching without them. I’ve noticed that the students are more engaged when using the computers, and they tend to put more effort into their assignments.

Now my goal is to combine the technology at my disposal with something Pauline Gibbons calls rich tasks and identity texts. According to Gibbons, rich tasks “focus on central ideas of a topic or issue and require students to demonstrate deep knowledge of the field, rather than simply knowledge of isolated facts…rich tasks also result in an end product that has relevance beyond the classroom and is presented to an audience broader than the teacher.” These end products are referred to as identity texts (2009).

Identity texts are designed to improve the students’ confidence by promoting a positive self-identity, which provides a much more powerful and lasting learning experience than boring drill and practice activities. When combining identity texts with technology, not only do the students develop the digital literacy skills that they will need in their professional lives, but they also create a professional looking product of which they can feel proud.

Continue reading as I explore the possibilities of the digital classroom and how it can be used to increase engagement, effort, and critical thinking skills in the 21st century student.

Works Cited

Cummins, Jim. “Forward.” English Learners, Academic Literacy, and Thinking: Learning in the Challenge Zone. By Pauline Gibbons. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 2009. Print.

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