Tuesday, November 29, 2011

A November Day

Today I've got to Chapter 11 of Curriculum 21 and it's by Alan November.  I'm lucky to have meet Alan in person, many years ago at an ECIS IT Conference, and I always enjoy listening to him speak or reading what he writes.  This chapter is about how students often have to power down when they go into schools as many things are blocked or forbidden.  Of course smartphones, skype, social media and other tools can be very disruptive to education - or at least to classroom management - but they can also be used to transform the learning experience for students.

Alan November writes:
This is the first time in history when many children are learning to use powerful tools outside the range of adult supervision.  What concerns many of us is that our worst fear of students abusing these tools has a much higher change of happening without teachers and parents providing appropriate role models   ....   What about if we were to transform the culture of teaching and learning to adapt to the power of these tools?  After all, our children are growing up at a time when they have instant access to the Web for information and global communication in their back pocket.  And it is nearly free.
This is something that educators should be talking about and planning for.  Several years ago I often gave advice to parents to have their computer in a family room, not to let children have it in their bedrooms where they could access anything completely unsupervised - both good and bad.  And then in 2005 my own children started with a tablet programme at school and this advice seemed redundant - they had their tablets with them all the time.  They used them for their homework - which they did in their bedrooms.  Suddenly it became imperative to talk with them about the use - and abuse - of these devices.  Our conversations were not about what they should not be doing - we turned the conversations around to how to be responsible digital citizens.

This year we stared a 1:1 programme with our Grade 4 and 5 students on one of our campuses.  It's interesting to compare the different campuses, one of which has carts of laptops that are shared between a whole grade and the other where the students have their own laptop in their classroom.   I was talking with the campus head today about how empowering it is that the students all have their own machines.  I'm interested in the fact that it's on this small primary campus that the greatest leaps forward seem to be being made.

A couple of days ago I was looking at an acceptable use policy for another international school and discussing it with one of my colleagues.  We noticed that there were many rules about what not to do and the consequences that would happen if these rules were broken.  I started to think about something I was told when I first started teaching: to talk to students about the behaviour you want to see, not the behaviour that you want to stop.  For example if a student is talking loudly and distracting others, the positive thing to say is "please talk quieter".  If a student is using a laptop inappropriately, I'm not sure that taking the laptop off the student is going to change that behaviour (though it will obviously stop him/her doing it during that lesson).  Perhaps a better way of dealing with this is to give the student something positive to do with the laptop - a role or job that is valuable for the rest of the class, for example a scribe or a researcher.  At the end of this chapter Alan November also writes about this.  Rather than asking students to stop using certain things or blocking certain websites, we should be asking how we can empower students to be more responsible for their own learning, how we can encourage them to contribute to the learning community.   To do that we need to change the culture of teaching and learning away from one of control and towards one of empowerment.

Photo Credit:  I took this photo at the end of the day from the staff room, before leaving school to drive home.  It doesn't really fit with the post at all, except that it was a beautiful November evening, and as I'm leaving the school this year I treasure the one day a week I spend on this remarkable campus with an amazing set of educators.  The photo was taken on my iPhone using Pro HDR. 

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