Medium is amazing, and once again I have to thank Craig Newmark for introducing me to it. Tom is being the exact best type of educator in this circumstance, and since we have made the commitment to try the Adult Literacy X PRIZE, my comments are oriented toward concepts of universal design and accessibility — as well as the critical, irreplaceable human element in education and learning.
I indeed have been a classroom teacher since 1998, and I’ll always be a part-time college English instructor. Some people might look at this as I’m not good enough, smart enough or well educated enough to be a full-time professor.
I consider myself wealthy beyond imagining in what I have been able to experience in terms of student learning and growth over this time. I’ve only improved as a teacher because I made a commitment to really see my students as they came, and to respond to their needs, gifts and abilities.
Today, my students in South Orange County are primarily English Language Learners and adult returning students.
Each semester brings new challenges and new opportunities. In terms of student-led learning — all of our classes are of this nature. I think I was stiff-minded and perhaps stiff-necked as befits an old teacher, when thinking before. We cover the benefits of physically writing — taking notes, highlighting, annotating, using any other written method (even on tablet or phone) — as long as the student’s hand is moving. We talk about the difference this makes in the results in the student’s brain. We talk about what learning and growth is, and the critical role that writing takes in that process. “I write in order to know what I think,” Toni Morrison said. We practice this with each writing task. These are all based on reading or other interaction because it’s not learning in a vacuum. It is intended to mirror the desired class outcomes (state-mandated) as well as mirror the ideal learning process.
So, we do discuss the use of mobile devices, and we review current videos and information about “multitasking” — we talk about what is good to do in class, and what is not good to do (i.e. looking up words — great. Texting BF or GF — not great).
One highly-engaged student mentioned a video he’d seen. This is spoken word poetry called “Live Life the Real Way.”
Can we watch it? Well, he already knew the answer — of course we would.
All students (in his class) were motivated by the video and engaged.
The next class, I mentioned that another student had introduced this video to the other class and asked if class would be interested in seeing it. It was spoken word poetry, I mentioned, and from a young British poet.
Everyone agreed, so I showed it and I noticed that *during this video* a student was texting!
I asked him why he was texting during this video which was all about “No Texting in Place of Living Life.”
“I live my life on social media,” he said. “I believe in it.”
“So you did not like this video,” I asked. He averred: no.
The other students were freaking out. I am a hardened old coot and little throws me, but I found myself reviewing the whole situation — everything we’d covered up to that point, what we were about to do, and this individual student’s situation. He was probably the student in either class with the most skills needed to be learned to achieve the desired outcomes. In addition, he was an Arab=American student and for him to be challenging the teacher like this, I found to be very unusual.
So I asked him if he worked. Yes, he said — he worked doing advertisements for a social media site.
What do these advertisements say? I asked. What kind of customers are they supposed to attract?
He had trouble articulating many details. At last, he said, “We are the best website.”
His friends soon chimed in. “Shouldn’t they give the price?” said one.
“What about the benefits?” said another.
This thing did not straighten itself out immediately. It took the whole rest of the semester. I spoke privately with this student about his writing and his interests and goals. I had a pretty good discussion with him about how other students viewed the simple video vs. his feelings and reactions. Both were valid, I told him. But — even social media used language, I said. It was the only way. To interact, to learn, to achieve. Eventually, he presented a unit to the rest of the class about the book we study during the 2nd half of the semester. And, his work exceeded the average outcomes, and began to excel.
So, I think this is what you are talking about, Tom. Certainly this was students teaching others and learning.
Because I have been “online” for many years (was one of the original old-time AOL writing instructors, for example) and even began teaching online before teaching in-person, I think that the mobile or online methods of communication can tend to favor the hierarchical, top-down methods of communication which are indeed, outdated and less-effective — if they ever were effective. I wasn’t around many generations ago, so I do not know. Any tech has to be very flexible and universally accessible to be an effective support to learning and teaching. Our tech gives us instant access to information. It can’t DO things for us. It cannot WRITE for us. It cannot LEARN for us. It cannot THINK for us. It cannot FEEL.
I know many teachers of an older generation to me (no waaaayyy! Is it possible — holy smokes, yes!) who are perplexed by technology. Yet they remain highly effective teachers. It’s the focus on the goal, on the student growth and abilities and opportunities that makes the difference. I totally get the Khan Academy YouTube examples, Tom. “Watching” something, no matter how “good” isn’t worth much compared to sitting down with a pencil and paper (or iPad) and working out problems directly.