Saturday, February 10, 2007

And now I'm dreaming about teaching

This morning, after a week in Atlanta attending an internal consulting and facilitation workshop, I dreamt that I was teaching; it was the first day of school.

The mind is a funny thing. In my dream, I was back teaching at Sem. I'm wondering what my mind was doing, as Sem doesn't really fit my bill in terms of what I'm looking for. I'm still set on teaching in a small, independent, college-prep, secondary boarding school with a real boarding emphasis. There must be some 300-plus boarding schools in the US. Of those, a mere 55 or so fit my criteria.

I've been scanning a fair number of blogs by teachers, and I'm excited about various possibilities that exist today in integrating technology in the classroom. At Sem, and it was eons ago, twice I attempted to integrate technology into my English classroom. One semester, while teaching a course around literature from the Vietnam war era, students completed an assignment where they created videos. Several were interviews of Vietnam veterans, and a couple were scripted endeavors. They were okay, but I know that with what I know today, they could be so much better... and I'm not talking just about the use of technology, but the abilities that technology provides in terms of creativity and collaboration.

A second thing I did was establish a writing center complete with, what was then top-of-the-line, MacIntosh computers. The computers, which even in the late eighties wasn't weren't as ubiquitous as they are now, helped students easily edit their work. We also used a program which allowed the reviewer of the text -- be it a teacher or a peer writing tutor -- to insert comments into the text. I can only imagine what is available now.

Several blog posting recently have struck a nerve with me. Bing Miller from Branford, Connecticut, recently posted about where to sit in the classroom of today. He wrote:
All around me, kids were talking to each other. And that's just how I planned it.

My classroom has looked like that for several years. But now, things have begun to change. Or shift. What does that mean for me? Where do I sit in this new digital classroom? And what am I supposed to do?

Today I sat right in the center for most of the class, but nobody talked to me. It was a Literature Circle discussion day. Translation: students come in having read the first part of their novels (each group broke up their novel into four parts) and spends most of the class in small groups, sharing ideas about the book. I sit in the middle, trying to listen to pieces of as many conversations as possible. Snippets of discussions. Pieces of ideas. All the while, I'm jotting down feedback on an assessment sheet. A few minutes before the bell rings, I distribute the marked up sheets to the student groups. For me, it's kind of a hands-off approach to the lesson. I rarely interject myself into a group's conversation. Too often I find that if I float around the room, my arrival at a group usually means a quick shuffling of papers and comments like, "...so anyway, as we were discussing [insert any out of context reference to a character or literary term meant to sound intelligent] what are your thoughts..." Then it all conveniently tails off as I continue past. Or another dreaded interaction: "Hey, Miller, what does this mean?" Once that happens, I become the crutch. What do students need to think for if they can just ask the teacher for the answers?

From the center, there is no opportunity to show off for me or wait for me to show up. Am I able to hear every snippet of their conversation? No. Do I need to? I don't know. I guess the answer depends on what my role as a teacher is.
This is really exciting stuff. What is the role of the teacher? I want to work in a school where my colleagues are grappling with that very question. I want to work in a thoughtful environment.

Vicki Davis from Camilla, Georgia, recently posted about her use of using wikis and other web/technology in the classroom. Well, actually the post is about a great deal more than just this; check it out.

While my current role as a consultant is somewhat satisfying, I want to make an impact with individuals (i.e., students) and not just have an organizational focus.

What's next?

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