A Little Sparkle Goes a Long Way

Posted: March 3, 2014 in Uncategorized
Tags: , , ,

So, I’ve been thinking about resistance, in particular resistance to integrating technology into class. Honestly, I think about this frequently. There’s the fear thing, the time thing, the kids-will-know-more-than-I-do thing. Another “thing” I’ve been tossing around in my head is the technology-is-fun-and-we-are-doing-serious-work thing.

CC photo by Paul Farning

CC photo by Paul Farning

I think there’s something about the trifecta of high level courses, high performing schools, and high-powered students that lends itself to all of us taking ourselves a little too seriously in the classroom. To be clear, I am very serious about education. By that I mean that I believe with my entire being in the power of learning and the transformative potential of students doing excellent work. I believe that students should work hard at school; it should push them intellectually; they should wrestle with ideas; feedback on work should be constructive, honest, and supportive. I think that all students should create work in many forms and actively reflect on their learning. I do not advocate “cute idea teaching” where projects that have no educational value but look great on the walls are the norm. And, in the same breath without contradiction, I am also all for a little sparkle. I want all students to lean in to whatever class they are in. Sometimes that pure form of a subject, however bright and shiny it appears to the teacher who specializes in it, does not look that way to the students. Sure we can take the attitude that “this is good for them,” like vegetables. However, putting our subject matter in the category of things students don’t like is probably not productive. Mixing in a little secret spice to (insert your favorite subject here) goes a long way in terms of adding appeal without watering down. If we can make what we know is good and worthy and valuable a little more appealing to the unconvinced would that be wrong?

In a recent blog post John Chubb, President of NAIS (National Association of Independent School) wrote about student engagement. He titled his post “Measuring what Matters: Student Engagement.” So, I’m thinking he’s all for student engagement just from that title alone. He references Ferris Bueller Day Off “Bueller, Bueller. . .” If that doesn’t make any teacher want to weep, I don’t know what will.

When I advocate using technology in class to increase engagement, I am never suggesting turning class into recess (see my point about “cute idea teaching” above). But, in some circles fun and even engaging has become a bad word, a word that means easy, not rigorous. Fun and engaging do not mean those things; I double checked. Helping students find a less intimidating and more engaging way into the material or discussion is not making the class too easy. It is meeting students where they are and moving them forward. If by sprinkling a little sparkly technology dust onto what we are doing I can get my students to lean in a little bit more, put forth some more effort, discover this topic is more interesting than they suspected, push them to think, super. I am not above a bait and switch.

So many teachers I know are great performers in class.  They will dramatize, use funny pictures, joke, anything they can to get help their students see the subject matter in a more possitive light. Why should that stop at technology? Technology is one more tool (actually many, many tools some of which will disappear just when you have fallen in love with them) to add to your bag of tricks. And, let’s face it creating the next generation of (insert your particular discipline here) scholars is not going to happen without students enjoying the subject matter and the work.

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Comments
  1. Can I push a little here? I worry that too often we take stuff that just isn’t engaging to kids and try to infuse it with technology in order to engage them. For example, grammar drills aren’t going to become magically engaging just because you ask kids to do them on an iPad. Engaging learning is purposeful, meaningful, and timely to the learner. It connects with their passions and interests; the learners must think it matters (and not just for the test on Friday). My school is 1:1 with tons of technology-infused into lessons, but students still aren’t always engaged. The shiny might help for a little while, but I think it wears off fast. Is that your experience, too? I’m trying to invite the students into the designing of our class so that they have a voice and the engagement is by their design, not mine. (I’m finding this incredibly challenging and scary, too.) What do you think, Wendy?

  2. mseiteljorg says:

    Philip,

    I TOTALLY agree with you. I think I tried to combine too many ideas in this post. One idea I was trying to work with was opposition to integrating technology because it’s not serious work because serious work is hard and not fun.

    The shiny does wear off if that’s all it is. If it is shiny AND provides an entrance to a topic that wasn’t there before, or a way for students to participate that builds the habit of contributing to class in all ways, then we have a different story. I have always found that if I do anything in class all the time it becomes boring. Knowing that the brain responds to novelty, as I teacher I try to combine enough novelty to keep things interesting with enough consistency to reassure and reinforce and then throw in some reflection so that we notice we are learning.

    I definitely don’t think that technology will fix everything or create meaningful lessons where there were none. I think sometimes there is the potential to approach a topic differently or involve students in more of the planning or direction (using technology or not) that will lead to more honest student interest. Student input in class is important, in my opinion, and potentially scary as you say. However, if a classroom is to be a community of learners then everyone in the community needs to feel part of the decision making, if only in a small way. I would like to involve students in more of what you are describing. I think I did more of this when I taught 5th grade. This year I am teaching a section of 9th grade English, but I have not exactly made it my own yet.

    Thanks so much for your comments.

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